2,088 field staff taking part in the eight-day exercise in five landscapes

The eight-day phase-one of the all India tiger estimation 2013-2014 by 2,088 field staff began in the forests of the State on Monday.

The estimation, at the initiative of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), is a countrywide exercise conducted every four years to assess the status of wild tigers, co-predators, prey species, and their habitat.

This time, it comprises three phases. The first phase is the responsibility of the respective State governments. Phase two and three of the estimation will be conducted by the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) using remotely sensed data and camera traps.

While during the 2006 and 2010 tiger estimations, the forests of the State were divided into four landscapes for the assessment, this time the State has five landscapes — Wayanad, Parambikulam, Nilambur, Periyar, and Agasthyamala. These landscapes have been further divided into 39 divisions, and the divisions segregated into 696 blocks.

Each block, comprising about 20 sq km, will be covered by three personnel headed by a section forest officer. The Periyar Tiger Reserve has the highest number of blocks – 59.

The exercise is being carried out under the direct supervision of Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Om Prakash Kaler.

Since the forests of Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu are interlinked, the phase one of the estimation, which involves field data collection, is being carried out simultaneously in the three States.

On the first three days, a carnivore sign survey will be held along three different trails in each block. On the fourth day, the field staff will lay 2-km-long transects in each block (transect is a sample strip of land used for monitoring plant distribution or animal populations within a given area). No monitoring will be carried out on the fifth day to avoid any disturbance to animals caused by the laying of transects.

Transect survey will be conducted during the early morning period on the last three days to record ungulate encounter rates. This phase will involve provision of information on vegetation, weeds, canopy cover, human disturbance indices, and ground cover. The data collected from the State will have to be submitted to the Periyar Tiger Conservation Foundation.

A regional training workshop for the forest officers of the southern States was conducted by the NTCA and the WII at the Periyar Tiger Reserve from October 9 to 11. It is these officers who imparted training to the field staff on field data collection as part of the first phase estimation.

The estimated tiger population in the State during the 2006 estimation was 46. In the 2010 process, it climbed up to 112 tigers. The country’s estimated tiger population in 2010 was 1,706. While the area of tiger occupancy in the country went down from 93,697 sq km in 2006 to 81,881 sq km in 2010, in Kerala it went up from 5,555 sq km in 2006 to 5,991 sq km in 2010.

The Forest Department is hopeful that the estimated wild tiger population in the State will be higher than the 2010 count.