For decades, the rhino has borne the brunt of the poachers’ onslaught in Kaziranga National Park (KNP) in Assam, letting the tiger prosper in relative obscurity. But a jump in the park’s tiger population may have increased the vulnerability of the big cat.
Over the last two months, as many as nine tigers have died in the 860 sq. km park, designated a World Heritage Site in 1985. Officials insist they were not victims of poaching. Local villagers poisoned three tigers while the rest died either of old age or were gored by Asiatic water buffaloes.
Most of the deaths took place in Agaratoli, the eastern range of park closer to human habitations. “Tigers lifted a phenomenal 147 cattle in 2008 despite the rise in the population of its natural prey in the park. Villagers poisoned one tiger last year and three more this year, but the rest of the deaths were normal. We do not have updated figures to make any claims, but the deaths suggest that KNP’s core area is getting overcrowded for the tiger,” chief wildlife warden Mohan Chandra Malakar told HT.
That the tiger was gaining in importance in the rhino’s traditional domain became apparent when KNP was brought under Project Tiger in 2006. The last census in 2000 had pegged the tiger population in the park at 86, or 16.8 tigers per 100 sq. km. The ideal ratio is XX tigers per 100 sq. km. The Wildlife Institute of India had, in 2005-06, initiated another tiger census, but could not complete it due to some technical snags. The survey resumed a few weeks ago.
Camera-trappings in 50 locations in the park’s Kohora and Bagori ranges have so far yielded over 400 images. “Both camera traps and human observations suggest that the number of tigers, of different ages, has not come down compared to previous surveys,” said field zoologist Firoz Ahmed. An overall estimate of the tiger in KNP is likely to be available by the end of April this year.