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Tuesday, Oct 15, 2019

No tiger spotted in 3 years at Palamau park

One of India’s first tiger habitats, declared a protected forest reserve in 1973 when Project Tiger was launched, may have lost all its tigers, according to two crucial scientific methods to track big cats in the wild.

india Updated: Feb 17, 2019 22:55 IST
Sanjoy Dey
Sanjoy Dey
Hindustan Times, Ranchi
Bengal Royal Tiger basking in the sun at tiger safari, Ludhiana on Thursday, December 28, 2017.
Bengal Royal Tiger basking in the sun at tiger safari, Ludhiana on Thursday, December 28, 2017. ( Gurpreet Singh/Hindustan Times. Image for representation)
         

One of India’s first tiger habitats, declared a protected forest reserve in 1973 when Project Tiger was launched, may have lost all its tigers, according to two crucial scientific methods to track big cats in the wild.

No tiger has been seen in Palamau Tiger Reserve (PTR) on camera trap pictures clicked since 2016, and a scat analysis (in which faeces is used to identify animals) conducted this year has found no evidence of a tiger in the forest, according to officials familiar with the matter.

Once officially confirmed, this will make PTR the third reserve in the country — after Sariska in Rajasthan and Panna in Madhya Pradesh — from where tigers vanished, even though the national population of tigers has risen from 1,114 in 2006 to 2,226 in 2014. Tigers have been relocated to Sariska and Panna over the last decade. The population is 17 tigers including cubs and 37 in the two reserves respectively.

A national tiger census has been underway since 2018 and its findings are expected to be published in May 2019. The scat analysis and camera traps are part of the 2018 All India Tiger Estimation’s (AITE) comprehensive methodology to calculate the tiger population in the country.

Principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife), Jharkhand, PK Verma, said on Sunday that no evidence of tiger presence — either direct (camera trap) or indirect (scat analysis) — has been found in recent times. “But scat collection is a continuous process. Fresh scats are being collected and sent to WII [the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India]. A WII team also visited PTR recently. We hope to see a positive result in future,” he said.

The 84 samples analysed by WII have so far not shown the presence of a tiger. “The analysis is based on the initial samples which we received from PTR. We are still collecting more scat samples from there. Once we analyse them, we will be able to tell about exact tiger status,” said Dr Kausik Banerjee, a scientist at the WII’s tiger cell.

Since 2016, none of the 450 cameras in Palamau have got a picture of a tiger. In 2014, where there were 30 cameras in the forest, three images of three tigers were recorded.

Experts cite rising biotic pressure, dwindling prey base, increasing human interference, and increasing encounters between Maoist rebels and security forces as some of the reasons for tigers moving out of the Jharkhand reserve.

Jharkhand wildlife board member, DS Srivastava, said, “Insurgency is the major cause for dwindling tiger population as there are frequent police-Maoist encounters in the reserve. Also, presence of over 168 villages, 1.5 lakh domestic cattle, a railway track and a highway passing through the reserve create additional biotic pressures.”

The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NCTA), a statutory body mandated to monitor tiger conservation, has not received any information about the scat analysis, according to W Longvag, its regional officer for the eastern zone.

The scat samples analysed, however, show the return of wild dogs, who had not been sighted in the forest for the last three years. Besides, evidence of 18 leopards has also been found, according to forest department officials.

When Palamau was declared a tiger reserve 46 years ago by then prime minister Indira Gandhi, it had 22 tigers. The reserve recorded its highest tiger population of 71 in 1995, but the big cat population has been dwindling and had come down to 10 in 2010 and just three in 2014.

The AITE 2018 started in Palamau this January, dividing the exercise into four phases. In the earlier phases, scats of big cats were collected and WII experts made field visit but had to return after a threat from Maoist forces in the region. The rebels had also forced PTR authorities to remove the trap cameras from some places where they operate.

First Published: Feb 17, 2019 22:54 IST

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