The second phase of the tiger enumeration exercise will commence in the first week of January and entail camera-trapping of tigers and leopards in Bandipur.

The first phase of the census concluded on Monday with the volunteers dispersing after six days of data collection pertaining to carnivores, herbivores, and the surrounding vegetations at Bandipur, Nagarahole, BRT Wildlife Sanctuary, Bhadra, Anshi-Dandeli, and other reserve forests.

Conservator of Forests and director of Bandipur Tiger Reserve, H.C. Kantharaj, told The Hindu that the second phase would involve tiger specialists from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, and the Forest Department.

In all, 130 cameras would be placed at key and vantage points identified by trackers based on the movement of tigers in Bandipur alone. The objective is to get a photo identity of the big cats and the software developed by the authorities would help ascertain specific features based on the stripes of each of the animals and help eliminate duplication. Mr. Kantharaj said the first batch of the cameras had arrived and the department was awaiting the dispatch of the second batch of nearly 60 cameras which would help them cover about 50 per cent of tiger reserve landscape spread over 874 sq. km.

“The cameras will be in place for 45 days and once completed they will be fixed at other places so as to cover the entire tiger landscape area Each camera will have an 8 GB memory card and can store anywhere between 500 to 800 images. We will can either replace the memory card or carry our laptops, download the images, and reload the camera after formatting the memory card,” Mr. Kantharaj said.

D. Rajkumar of Wildlife Conservation Society said the camera would not only help identify the carnivore density but also help ascertain prey density of an area. He said the cameras would have infrared sensor. “It will be triggered off when the light beam is broken by the animal movement and the data so captured will be superior as the stripes and other patterns can be matched with the available database. It is also least intrusive and the animals are not disturbed,” Mr. Rajkumar said.

He pointed out that camera trapping was a reliable and a scientific method and helped ascertain the presence of Melanistic Leopard in Wayanad though it had not been sighted earlier. “As tigers are territorial, the camera trap method will be useful to ascertain as to how many tigers are living in any given area apart from helping the scientists in estimating the prey density and habitat evaluation,” Mr. Rajkumar said.

The data collected by volunteers in the first phase and the camera trapping results will be extrapolated by scientists to arrive at an estimation on the number of tigers which will be a close approximation. The last such survey and estimation was done in 2009 and the results were declared in 2010 as per which the number of tigers in Bandipur was estimated to be between 85 and 110 and on an average harboured one tiger for every 8 sq. km. The prey density in the national park is reckoned to be high to support tigers, leopards, dholes – the three flag-ship species of carnivores in Indian forests.

Mr. Kantharaj said the same protocol would be followed in other national parks such as Nagarahole, BRT Wildlife Sanctuary, Bhadra, Anshi-Dandeli.

The habitat evaluation would help identify if there were any areas bereft of tigers or other carnivores which could help ascertain the reason for it. A fallout would be intervention measures to improve wildlife habitat so that the spill-over animals could reclaim the forests.