Tiger ID card could turn predator into prey
Deepak Gidwani / DNATuesday, October 20, 2009 2:25 IST
Lucknow: You might not be able to bell this cat. But you could collar it. That’s perhaps what the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) proposes to do under a new plan to have ID cards for all the big cats across the country. The unique card would have all the data about each tiger, along with radio collar records to help keep track of their movement.
The proposal, approved by environment minister Jairam Ramesh at a recent NTCA meeting, has sparked off a debate over this method of tracking the tiger and keeping a record of the area of its movement.
Experts say that the card could actually harm the endangered species instead of protecting it, and poachers could use the data to hunt down the tiger. As per the latest Wildlife Institute of India figures, India has only about 1,400 tigers left.
“The moment you can pinpoint the location of the tiger, the entire thrill of sighting this magnificent animal is gone… it would end the mystery related to the tiger,” says UP’s former chief wildlife warden and renowned tiger expert Ram Lakhan Singh. “Besides, specific information of the tiger’s movement could also lead to its killing if poachers manage to get the data,” he warns.
Officials, however, feel that modern scientific methods have to be used in tiger management and conservation. “The tiger IDs would help us devise more effective anti-poaching strategies, and also help reduce man-animal conflict,” says UP’s chief wildlife warden BK Patnaik.
“We have already been using the pugmark method and the double camera trap technique to monitor and study tiger habitats. This is just an advancement,” he says. The tracking device could be in the form of a transmitter of radio collar. Patnaik says NTCA is yet to issue guidelines in this regard.
“Maintaining an ID of each tiger will help the officials, particularly forest guards, keep track of the predator in their jurisdiction. The idea is to strengthen tiger conservation at the ground level,” says Rajesh Gopal, member secretary, NTCA. The identity card will have a photograph of the tiger and its skin print, a unique characteristic of each predator, camera trap and radio collar records with regular updates of its behaviour.
The NTCA’s proposal was approved after experts expressed concern over the death of 56 tigers, including 14 due to poaching this year. “The ID card will not only help track movement of tigers but also its behaviour… the step will help understand tiger occupancy, dispersal and other aspects of the tiger’s ecology,” Gopal said.
Even detractors agree that the new method has its advantages. “In case of a tiger dying naturally or getting poached, foresters would be able to find it immediately… it would also help locate tigers who wander off their natural habitat into human settlements,” says Ram Lakhan Singh.
Madhya Pradesh, which has the most tigers (around 300) in India, has already taken an initiative in this direction. The system will soon be adopted in all the 37 tiger reserves in 17 states.