As the State Forest Department processes the mass of data gathered during the six-day tiger census that ended last week, scientists are getting set with camera traps and DNA sampling kits to collect “irrefutable evidence” to estimate the big cat population.
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) India, Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS) and the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) will combine their expertise to identify individual tigers — based on their unique coat pattern and DNA fingerprint from scats — to come up with a scientifically robust figure, K. Ullas Karanth, Director of CWS, told The Hindu.
Camera traps (automated cameras generally used to photograph nocturnal wildlife) will be placed every five sq km on an average, along roads and known wildlife paths in the four major tiger reserves and wildlife sanctuaries in Nagarahole, Bandipur, Bhadra and Dandeli, said WCS India Director Ravi Chellam. “We have almost completed camera trapping in Nagarahole and will be moving next to Bandipur.”
The Forest Department’s census, which has recorded tiger sightings and evidence of their presence (from pugmarks, scats, rake marks on tree trunks etc) can determine the absence or presence of tigers in a particular area, but may not estimate their precise number. “For that you need sample data by which you can irrefutably identify each individual tiger,” said Mr. Chellam.
Results from DNA sampling and camera trapping are likely to present a reasonably similar picture of the tiger population, he said. DNA sampling, which is rather more expensive than camera trapping, is ideal for places where tiger density is low and where the big cats are rarely sighted, for instance in Kudremukh National Park.
The data analysis should be completed by June, said Mr. Karanth. Country-wide, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) will deploy camera traps in 67 protected areas in 17 States.
Meanwhile B.K. Singh, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) said it could take over a month to collate the data sent in by field officers from across Karnataka, before it is sent to WII.