Uttar Pradesh has 278 tigers, claims the Forest Department. But, wildlife experts and the environmentalists doubt the claim and blame it on the "poor and worn out" method of census. "The traditional pugmark method is not accurate," said Belinda Wright, president of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) from New Delhi on phone. The issue has cropped up once again as the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department prepares to conduct a census on the tigers in its forests from May 22.
Former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) Dr RL Singh said there had been no concrete suggestion yet in this regard to the Forest department or the state government. He claims, however, that "the photo-trap shoot and re-shoot" technique was the most suitable to count the accurate number of tigers.
"The photo-trap technique was tried in the Valmiki Tiger Reserve, and it gave satisfactory results," said the vice chairman of Wildlife Trust of India Ashok Kumar, also on phone from Delhi. He too doubted the claim of tigers by the UP Forest Department. Belinda said, "The figure of 278 is too high and it is hard to believe that so many tigers exist in UP. Where's the habitat for so many tigers in UP," she wondered. About the census, Belinda said the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun had been trying to conduct the "photo-trap" technique in the Terai region of UP.
Mohammad Ahsan said we are going ahead with the pugmark method from May 22. It is the oldest method adopted to ascertain the number of tigers in a forest reserve. "But due to lack of expertise and staff, the purpose of even getting close to the exact number of tiger population gets defeated," said Singh and the recurring flaw in the pugmark technique is the 'double count' of a Big Cat. Ahsan said there was a variation of plus and minus of 10 to 15 per cent. He claimed the number of tigers in UP could be even more than 15 per cent.
About the DNA method, director of the centre for cellular and molecular biology (CCMB) Dr Lalji Singh from Hyderabad said the centre submitted a plan to count the exact number of tigers in India through DNA analysis. "Cost of the project is Rs 2.5 crore," he said, adding if the census were done in UP the cost would come to about 7 lakh.