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DNA analysis to nail lie on tiger counts

Laboratory for Conservation of Endangered Species, a part of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad has a foolproof method to know not only the number of tigers in a tiger reserve but their genetic diversity and number of male and female tigers.

india Updated: May 25, 2010 20:49 IST
Pawan Dixit

Exaggerated tiger counts presented by forest officials all across the country can be nailed.

Laboratory for Conservation of Endangered Species, a part of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad has a foolproof method to know not only the number of tigers in a tiger reserve but their genetic diversity and number of male and female tigers.

The lab has developed the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technology that allows one to examine even miniscule amounts of DNA present in faecal samples of tigers. It would expose the exaggerated tiger counts presented by forest officials all across the country.

The technology is 99.9 per cent accurate. The forest officials will only have to collect tigers’ faecal from the tiger reserves and send it to the CCMB for DNA analysis. The centre is even willing to send its scientist to tiger reserves to train forest officials how to collect tigers’ faecal.

The PCR technology can also easily differentiate between male and female tigers apart from providing the exact count to the big cats in tiger reserves.

It is also the only scientific method available all across the globe that can also point out if there is any genetic inbreeding of tigers in a particular tiger reserve.

If there is any such problem then the CCMB can ask the state government of that particular tiger reserve to import tigers from other reserves to solve the problem.

Former director of CCMB Dr Lalji Singh and his team members have developed this technology and wants to introduce it in all tiger reserves in the country.

“We have successfully carried out the pilot study with faecal samples of tigers collected from two tiger reserves to estimate tiger population in 2006,” says Dr Singh.

“It is the technology of the future. The pugmark and camera trap methods have inherent drawbacks. For carrying out tiger census the DNA technology can also be used with the pugmark and camera trap methods,” he adds.

So why the forest officials have not adopted the PCR technology to estimate tiger population?

“We are not getting full cooperation. Only some states are cooperating. To save tigers we need cooperation from all states,” says Dr Singh.

“All over Europe and some states in US are using the PCR technology for carrying out census of wild animals,” Dr Singh adds.

We can help the states that are not cooperating. We can send our staff there to collect tigers’ faecal. The states can even send the samples through courier or we can also collect, Dr Singh stated.

Scientist and wildlife experts say the states are shying away from carrying out the tiger census through the DNA analysis because it would expose tall claims about tiger population in their respective states.

“Figures about tiger count in almost all the states including Uttar Pradesh are exaggerated. If actual numbers are quoted then the forest officials will be exposed,” said a senior scientist.

For how long the states would manipulate with tiger count and put into jeopardy the survival of our national animal.