The first phase of the tiger population census in West Bengal’s Buxa Tiger Reserve has started, officials said on Friday. A Wildlife Institute of India (WII) estimate suggests that there may be just 10 tigers left in the reserve.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority has identified the reserve as one of the seven reserves, where the tiger density is critically low.

Human activity due to the presence of 37 villages within the demarcated area and constant erosion of the grasslands owing to nearby mining activity are cited as the main reasons for the declining numbers. The grasslands within the reserve were scanty to begin with as large areas were converted into teak plantations before it was declared a protected area.

“In the first phase, field surveys will be conducted. These will include direct sightings and observations of pug marks, scratch marks on barks of trees and collection of scat,” field director of the reserve R. P. Saini told The Hindu over the telephone.

After every observation, GPS (Global Positioning System) records would be maintained and the data would be sent to the WII. Experts at the institute will then use it to indicate probable areas where tigers may be sighted and, accordingly camera traps would be set up, Mr. Saini said.

“By September, the trends in tiger populations will start emerging and an estimate of the number of tigers in the reserve should hopefully be available by the end of the year.”

Forest Department officials have collaborated with six non-governmental organisations for the survey and 160 teams would carry it out, he said.