It is 32.64 tigers per 100 sq.km., highest in any known tiger habitat; one of the key reasons is abundance of prey

The Kaziranga National Park, famous for one-horned rhino, has the highest density of tigers in the world.

This was revealed in a report titled ‘Monitoring of Tigers and Prey Animals of Kaziranga National Park,' released by Assam Forest and Environment Minister Rockybul Hussain at the State Zoo here on Thursday. The report says that the density of tigers at Kaziranga is 32.64 tigers per 100 sq.km., the highest in any known tiger habitat.

Previously, this status was held by the Corbett Tiger Reserve in northern India which had 19.6 tigers per 100 sq.km. The usual density varies from three to12 tigers per 100 sq.km. in different tiger reserves throughout the country, the report states.

One of the key reasons for the high density in Kaziranga is the abundance of prey, including the hog deer (Axis porcinus), the sambar (Rusa unicolor), the swamp deer (Cervus duvauceli Cuv) and the wild buffalo (Bubalis arnee), according to the report.

The 50-page report was compiled on the basis of a study carried out by Aaranyak, a society for biodiversity conservation in northeast India, the Assam Forest Department and the Kaziranga National Park Authority.

Aaranyak Wildlife Biologist M. Firoz Ahmed, who led the study, said it was conducted using the ‘camera trap' method of tiger estimation and covered an area of 144 sq. km. of the central and western parts of the park.

1998 study

Earlier, Karanth and Nichols (1998) had indicated that tigers attained their highest possible density in Kaziranga. According to Karanth and Nichols, tiger density of Kaziranga was 16.8 tigers per 100 sq.km. Their efforts involved 525 trap-nights over 167 sq.km. The present study, involving 1,250 trap-nights of camera trap efforts, however, recorded almost twice the density compared to the last estimation made by Karanth and Nichols.

Explaining the reasons for using camera trapping, Mr. Ahmed said: “Stripes of tiger never lie. Tigers have different stripe patterns just like our fingerprints. By carefully observing the unique stripes all the photographed tigers of an area can be individually identified.” He said that Kaziranga is the only viable source population of tigers in the northeast region and it is important to know tiger population and ecology to scientifically manage prey, predator and habitats and also understand dispersal mechanism of tigers.

Mr. Hussain said the study results rekindled the hope for the protection of the tiger, which is fast disappearing from its range States throughout the world. He attributed Kaziranga's achievement to the dedication and relentless efforts by frontline staff to protect and preserve the wildlife and unique ecology of the World Heritage Site.

The study team has recommended regular monitoring of tigers and prey populations in the park to understand population dynamics and ecology in such a high-density tiger habitat. They also cautioned that considering the high density of tigers, human-tiger conflict on the fringe areas of the park may increase and recommended that the park management take necessary short-term and long-term steps to mitigate such conflicts and train more frontline staff in the park in regular monitoring of camera traps and also in recording sighting data of tigers and other animals on a regular basis.

The Aaranyak team worked under the supervision of their secretary-general Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, while the park staff were coordinated by director S.N. Buragohain.