After India’s citizens, it is the turn of the country’s tigers to get unique identification (UID) numbers.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) will issue UIDs to around 650 tigers — about one-third of the population — in the first phase starting early January. It believes this will provide “immense assistance” to the protection and monitoring of the big cats, which continue to be hunted and displaced.
The UIDs will be based on photographs captured on camera traps — cameras with infrared sensors that take pictures when they sense movement — as each tiger has a pattern that is unique to it, much like fingerprints for humans. The NTCA has prescribed two photographs showing both sides of the animal’s body.
“A national repository of camera trap photographs of tigers with UIDs will provide instant sharing of information with states and other participants,” the NTCA said in a concept note.
The UID will provide details such as location and other demographics.
An NTCA official said each ID will be linked to five major tiger landscapes in India.
The authority has also developed a software, ExtractCompare, to perform batch-level automated matching and to assign UIDs, the note said.
The current monitoring practice is for forest departments to assign numbers to each tiger. But, a tiger in Kanha reserve may be named T-2 and another in neighbouring Bandhavgarh may have the same number. "It makes monitoring difficult," an NTCA official said.
This year has seen 83 tiger deaths, the most since 1997 despite higher spending on protection. There are currently 1,706 tigers across 41 reserves.