The country will have to wait for at least one more year to know the number of Royal Bengal Tigers in the Sunderbans — the largest tiger habitat in India.
The project envisages tiger census through DNA sampling of the tigers’ droppings, a maiden application of the technology. The state forest department has decided to extend the time for collection of droppings for authenticity’s sake.
“It won’t be possible to collect tiger scat (droppings) within 10 to 15 days. During the next one year, forest officials would collect scats and send them to Hyderabad for testing. After a year, we should be able to give a figure close to the actual number,” Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve director Pradeep Vyas told Hindustan Times.
The last tiger census report, released by government in 2008, put tiger population in India at 1,411, a 61 per cent drop from the 2001-02 figure of 3,642.
But the shrinking population didn’t include the tigers of the Sunderbans for lack of authentic figures.
Pending the DNA method, an interim study will be done employing the ‘All India Tiger, Co-predator, Prey and Habitat Monitoring’ method with a few modifications. It may be carried out between March 4 and 8.
Acoording to the 2004 tiger census, the number of big cats in the Indian part of Sundarbans was around 274. Out of these Sunderban Tiger Reserve had 249 and South 24-Parganas Forest Division had 25 tigers. That number was based on pugmark method of calculation.
Analysing thost pugmark data, the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) claimed in July 2006 there were only 75 tigers in the Sundarbans.
The ISI report was trashed by the West Bengal government.
The pugmark method was field friendly but due to some drawbacks, Project Tiger developed a new methodology for the “Monitoring of Tigers, Co-predators, Prey and Habitat”. The new method envisaged groups of forest officials going out to collect signs and other information on tiger and its prey and habitat.
In 2006 tiger census, this new method was used in the Sunderbans, but the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) rejected it, terming the method archaic. This report was never made public.