New Delhi, Feb. 12: Thirty-five years after the launch of Project Tiger, India has finally used a science-based technique to count the big cats and dramatically altered their count in the wild.
The figure has been revised to 1,411, which is less than half of what was shown in the last census that had relied on a methodology long decried by experts as flawed.
The latest status report on tigers released by government scientists today covers all of India except the Sunderbans and Jharkhand and indicates that the country has at least 1,165 tigers and a maximum possible population of 1,657.
This population range is significantly lower than the count of 3,642 tigers the government had arrived at during the tiger census of 2001 based on a method of analysing pugmarks of tigers in their habitats.
The pugmark method had been criticised by Bangalore-based wildlife scientist Ulhas Karanth and others who argued that tiger habitat was far too vast for humans to count every tiger based on pugmarks.
For the new census, the government had adopted a strategy that involved cameras to track individual tigers and estimating their numbers using statistical techniques.
“We cannot compare the old and the new numbers,” said Rajesh Gopal, the director of Project Tiger. “We now have a standalone figure, but this is the first scientifically robust figure of tigers in India.”
The new report has vindicated suspicions that tigers have lost ground because of loss of quality habitat, poaching and loss of prey, but argues that “there is still hope”.
The highest tiger densities are in Corbett and Bandipur ? about 20 tigers per 100sqkm. But in 13 of the 28 forest regions studied, densities are less than 5 per 100sqkm.
“The concern is in the periphery outside the reserves,” Gopal said. “The low-density regions overlap with loss of forest habitat and loss of prey.”
Tiger populations with a high probability of persisting by themselves are still found in the Nagarhole-Madumalai-Bandipur-Waynad region in the south, Corbett and Kanha in the north, and possibly in the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong region in the Northeast and the Sunderbans.
“The Shivalik-Gangetic landscape is still promising for tigers,” Gopal said. The assessment has found that it had about 297 tigers.
“In areas outside tiger reserves, the population drop has been 50 to 70 per cent,” said Priya Ranjan Sinha, the director of the Wildlife Institute of India that was part of the study.
The new method of estimating tigers, he said, used elements that had been proposed by Karanth and peer-reviewed by national and international experts.
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