Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tigers increase, turf decreases


Census of the big cats show a marked increase even though their land area is shrinking

Sopan Correspondent / New Delhi

There is both good and bad news on the Tiger front. While the number of tigers has increased in the country, the area in which they inhabit has decreased. The All India Tiger census, released late last month, has projected 1706 tigers in the wild which is an increase of 295 from the last such exercise of counting the big cats.

The Western Ghats, constituting Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka has the single largest concentration of tigers in the world but the occupancy of the big cats has gone down in northern Andhra Pradesh and central India, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said at the release of the Tiger Estimate, 2010. The minister also pointed out that there is a decrease in the tiger occupancy area, which means the tiger corridors are under severe threat.

The estimate which shows an increase in adult tiger numbers to 1,636 (1706 including Sunderbans), up from the previous estimate of 1,411 tigers in 2006, says the number of tigers in Western Ghats is an estimated 534.

Maharashtra and Nagarjuna Sagar Tiger Reserve in Andhra Pradesh, which comes under the Central Indian Landscape Complex and Eastern Ghats Landscape Complex, has done well in conserving tigers. However, the tiger occupancy in northern Andhra Pradesh and Central India, which is also part of this landscape complex, has gone down. Though population of big cats in Orissa remains stable, Rajasthan has gone in for praise for its conservation practices.

Out of the total estimated tiger population, 353 comes from Shivalik-Gangetic Plain Landscape Complex, which constitutes Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

North East Hills and Brahmaputra Flood Plains, which has Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and northern West Bengal in its belt, has only an estimated 148 tigers which has been described as worrisome.

With the release of the figures, it is understood that most of India’s reproducing tiger population is now concentrated in 10 per cent of all tiger habitat that holds 90 per cent of all tigers. These areas need to be ecologically monitored annually using intensive camera trapping to check any further damage to the ecosystem in which the majority of the tigers live, experts point out.

The estimation was carried out by the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun along with partners in government, tiger experts and private parties concerned.

While the Nilgiris have the single largest population of the tiger in the world, Sunderban has the highest tiger density in the world. Close to 30 per cent of the estimated tiger population is outside the 39 reserves and the government so far does not have a strategy or plan to protect the big cats in these areas.

The process of counting the ferocious animal is a tough task involving tracking of tiger signs such as pug marks and scratch marks, using hi-tech cameras, DNA analysis and satellite telemetry. The whole estimation process was conducted in three phases over one year between December 2009 and December 2010 and it involved more than 4.7 lakh forest officials, wildlife activists and volunteers. Officials have described the process as “best-in-class” scientific process.

The tiger estimation project included collection of field data at beat-level in which 45,000sq km forest area of the country, including 39 designated tiger reserves, was divided in 29,772 beats or primary patrolling units with 4,76,000 forest personnel involved in the data collection in phase one.

“Besides trained forest officials, a number of wildlife activists and volunteers have also helped in the estimation exercise. In every beat, the officials had to walk at least 15 to 20 km a day to collect tiger habitation signs such as pug marks, scratch marks, their prey signs to assess the presence of the big cats, said YB Jhala, senior wildlife biologist at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in Dehra Dun.

According to the ministry, the officials walked a total distance of 6,25,000 km for data collection. This was followed by analysing tiger habitat status by using satellite data, installation of hi-tech cameras at strategic points for information about the presence of the wild cats.

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