The monitoring of tiger numbers, densities and their prey is about to get more rigorous in the 17 States that form the big cat's habitat.

Phase IV of the tiger estimation programme embarked on by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) will use a combination of tools — camera traps, line transects and scat DNA — to arrive at a more reliable estimate of tiger population in each reserve.

This phase of monitoring has begun in Karnataka and Assam.

The protocol calls for a greater intensity of monitoring, over a larger area in a shorter period, and will offer a complete handle on at least 90 per cent of the source (breeding) population of tigers every year, said Ullas Karanth, Director, Wildlife Conservation Society (India Program).

“It will also for the first time trace individual tigers over time and help arrive at the animal's survival rate.”

Every 4 to 5 sq km

A pair of camera traps will be installed every 4 to 5 sq km of the tiger landscape for a timeframe not longer than 40 to 60 days to avoid over-estimation of numbers.

A digital camera trap tiger photo database will be prepared for the reserve with location ID, date and time stamps.

While an emphasis has been given to camera traps to arrive the tiger population size, line transects will be used to estimate prey densities. And where camera trapping is not possible, scat DNA samples will be collected over the entire tiger reserve to estimate the minimum tiger numbers in reserves.

Scientific collaboration

“Each patrolling team will be equipped with a GPS unit and a digital camera besides the regular equipment (e.g. firearms, wireless, torch, etc),” says the NTCA protocol.

Collaboration

“The new protocols will enable State Forest Departments to formally collaborate with qualified scientists, and enable them to move up a ladder of technical progress, from estimating minimum number of tigers to robust estimates of population density, change in numbers over time, survival and other crucial parameters,” said Prof. Karanth.

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