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Big cat count may show 30% drop

TRENDS INDICATE that Madhya Pradesh may be going the Sariska way. The situation is alarming, as, according to an estimate, the number of big cats in the State is likely to drop dramatically from 712 in the year 2003 to about 500 to 550 after the current census.

india Updated: Mar 02, 2006 13:25 IST

TRENDS INDICATE that Madhya Pradesh may be going the Sariska way. The situation is alarming, as, according to an estimate, the number of big cats in the State is likely to drop dramatically from 712 in the year 2003 to about 500 to 550 after the current census.

Talking to Hindustan Times over the phone, Chief Wildlife Warden of Madhya Pradesh P B Gangopadhya said that he was not in a position to comment on the new methodology adopted for the census. He couldn’t comment on accuracy also, which would be known only after its application.

Gangopadhya, however, revealed that error in this methodology would be +/- 10 per cent. He refused to comment on increase or decline in the number of tigers owing to this new census.

He reasoned that in the current census more evidence was being collected, as secondary evidence was also being considered. Nothing could be said about the final results, which would be revealed by Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun, by end of June. He informed that at present second stage of census was underway in Panna.

He, however, admitted that the number of tigers within national parks and sanctuaries had dropped by 22 in the year 2004 in one year. In the year 2003, there were 416 tigers and the number dropped to 394 in the year 2004. However, including open space and national parks, there were 712 tigers in the State in 2003.

Sources in the Forest Department asserted on condition of anonymity that earlier inflated figures were given, and now after more accurate technique is employed, tiger population would drop by more than 30 per cent. They added that in the earlier technique there were lot of discrepancies, and it was more of an estimate, hence inflated figures were given.

They further said that with new technique chances of duplication and other errors have been eliminated, as DNA analysis of tiger excreta is also being done. Thus, the number of tigers is going to drop dramatically.

Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests H S Pabla went to the extent of saying that in the new methodology there were chances of underestimation. He attributed this possibility to the use of camera trap, which is fixed on the road, and clicks photographs of animals automatically.

He reasoned that cameras could not be placed everywhere, thus there were chances of missing animals. However, Pabla’s reasoning does not hold much water, as besides camera traps, digital photographs of pugmarks of tigers are also being taken.

Computer analysis of these photographs would be done at Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehra Dun, and this would reveal the real numbers. Besides this, DNA analysis of faecal matter of tigers will be done after collecting it from areas where animal density is low.

Pabla, however, maintained that he was not in a position to give the percentage of error in the new technique, which he said would be revealed only after WWI declared the final results with error.

He added that in the earlier technique individual counting of animals was done on the basis of pugmarks. During earlier census it was not possible to ascertain the error, but this time results would be declared with error.

First Published: Mar 02, 2006 13:25 IST