With special focus on the Northeast, New Delhi has started the Rs 10 crore massive tiger census exercise 2018. This time the census will witness coordination with Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh in estimating the territorial spread of the animal in the subcontinent.
“We have had officials from these countries come to the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) for training,” said Y Jhala, senior scientist.
Though India has engaged with Nepal and Bangladesh in previous tiger counts, this is the first time all countries are uniting in arriving at tiger numbers, particularly in regions with shared borders.
Jhala said that this time it will be a simultaneous exercise and tigers aren’t double-counted.
The once-in-four-years exercise calculated, in 2006, that India had only 1,411 tigers. This rose to 1,706 in 2010 and 2,226 in 2014 in later editions on the back of improved conservation measures and new estimation methods. The survey — divided into four phases — began in winter and is expected to reveal its findings in early 2019.
A senior government official in the Ministry of Environment and Forests said that over the next few months use of more technology, including a mobile app, with more intensive ground coverage will be done to determine numbers of the big cat.
“We are hopeful that the survey will provide more robust tiger numbers from the region,” said the official.
Due to various reasons, including accessibility and the fact that tigers there are thinly spread over large areas, the north-eastern region wasn’t adequately surveyed in past counts although the entire region was covered.
The basic census methodology – double sampling based on ground-based surveys for tiger signs and actual images captured on camera-traps, along with statistical extrapolation – remains unchanged.
First introduced in 2006 after the previous ‘pugmark’ surveys were found miserably inaccurate, the double sampling method had estimated India’s big cat numbers that year at just 1,411, ringing alarm bells around the world.
Officials from the National Tiger Conservation Authority and Wildlife Institute of India, which conducts the census, said that ground staff involved in the count will be using a mobile app, MSTrIPES, for the first time.
The app records the staff’s path through the forest and helps upload geo-tagged pictures into the central database. This will make the exercise speedier and more accurate.
Commissioned by the Union Environment Ministry’s National Tiger Conservation Authority, the Rs 10 crore exercise this year involves 40,000 forest guards traversing 4,00,000 sq km of forests; wildlife biologists independently assessing them; approximately a year’s duration of field work; 14,000 camera traps; and coordination with 18 states.
Along with tigers, the survey also collects information on the prey population of deer and other animals.