In keeping with the new policy to conduct tiger census annually instead of every four years, the National Tiger Conservation Authority will start the exercise in the two tiger reserves of Arunachal Pradesh along with 37 others in the country this month.

The number of tigers in the two reserves in Arunachal Pradesh, Namdapha and Pakke, would be determined using scientific methods and reputed NGOs would be involved in the process, Arunachal Pradesh Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (wildlife & biodiversity) J.L. Singh said.

The NTCA would provide all the necessary equipment, including sophisticated cameras, while experts of the Wildlife Institute of India would provide the technical training to the field staff of the project.

Mr. Singh said, “The World Wildlife Fund for Nature-India (WWFI) will be involved in the survey in Pakke while services of the Assam-based Aaranyak will be availed in Namdapha for authenticating the data collected.”

The NTCA decided to hold an annual census considering serious doubts cast on the accuracy of the methodologies adopted in the exercise, Mr. Singh said.

The Namdapha Tiger Reserve in Changlang district is the only national park in India where all four big cats -- tiger (Panthera Tigris), leopard (Panthera Pardus), snow leopard (Panthera Uncia) and clouded leopard (Neofelis Nebulosa) have been found.

The country’s tiger population is estimated to be 3,500, the figure having been arrived at through using the big cat’s pug marks, but the method is considered not very reliable.

According to the 2001-2002 census, there were 11 wild cats in the Namdapha park, but the 2006 census had shown them only four.

The state forest department, however, has claimed that the 2006 census by the WII was incorrect as it was done in selected areas of the tiger reserve.

Besides the decline in tiger population, the reserve experienced large-scale encroachment since the mid-eighties by Lisus, a tribe originating in China, who are good tiger hunters.

“The reported decline in tiger population is mainly due to encroachment of the park’s buffer zone by 84 families of the Lisus tribe from across the border,” Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) B.S. Sajwan had claimed recently.

In fact, to ascertain the presence of tigers, a survey as per an NTCA directive was conducted on an expedition mode in four zones of the Namdapha Tiger Reserve during November, 2008 to February, 2009 in which evidence of four tigers at different locations was found.

The forest officials, along with volunteers from ’Nature’s Beckon’, an NGO from Assam, had participated in the survey.

The data sheets and scat samples were submitted to Aaranyak for analysis and compilation and the DNA test of scats encouragingly confirmed existence of tigers in the Park.

Mr. Singh said the details of the camera trap method would be submitted to the NTCA for sanction of funds for conducting a survey.

Giving details of the method, he said the cameras are placed at a distance of about 1 km for 35 to 60 days at a single location to trap the images of tigers.

He said the data would be very encouraging as proper survey in the dense forests of this state having 82 per cent coverage is yet to be conducted.

The tiger population in Pakke is estimated to be nine.

India, home to half the world’s wild tigers, surprised global conservationists with its announcement last March that its tiger population had increased to 1,706 from 1,411 according to a tiger census conducted in 2007.

The area-wise tiger population shown were: Shivalik-Gangetic plains -- 353; Central and Eastern Ghats -- 601; Western Ghats -- 534; Brahmaputra flood plains & North-East hills -- 148; and Sunderbans -- 70, totalling 1,706, according to data released by All India Tiger Estimation in March 2011.

Numbering more than 100,000 at the turn of the last century, tigers have lost more than 97 per cent of their population and 94 per cent of their home range in just 100 years.