R. Krishna Kumar

Earlier results were based on pugmark count

The entire exercise to be monitored by independent observers from the Centre Bandipur and Nagarahole parks harbour at least 150 tigers Some naturalists have disputed the figures provided by the Forest Department

MYSORE: As the countdown begins to track down the big cats in the Bandipur and Nagarahole national parks, officials of the Forest Department are jittery over the end result of the proposed census. For, the earlier results were based on the pugmark count method that gave ample scope to "improvise" the actual count and invariably resulted in a deliberate inflation of the number of tigers.

But the census to be conducted from January 15 will include the state-of-the-art technology devised by wildlife biologists, and the entire exercise will be monitored by independent observers from the Centre and approved by the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun. It is expected to portray a more realistic picture of the ground reality.

Hence, the authorities are perturbed that any "decline" in the number of tigers counted or sighted through camera trapping and other methods may expose their claims that "all is well with the big cats in Bandipur and Nagarahole."

Given the seriousness with which the Government has taken up the exercise following the disaster at Sariska where all tigers were decimated by poachers while officials vouched by the pugmarks, there will be little scope for manipulation of pugmarks this time around, said a source in the Forest Department.

According to the last official count conducted a few years ago, there are nearly 85 tigers in Bandipur and 60 in Nagarahole. The two parks, which have been merged under a single administration and brought under the Project Tiger, harbour at least 150 tigers. It is an impressive figure and compares well with the number of tigers in the Kanha National Park reckoned to be Kipling's tiger country.

The census figures obtained from the Forest Department here indicate that there were only 11 tigers in 1972 when the Project Tiger was launched. This figure went up to 26 in 1976 and there has been no "looking back" for the tiger ever since, at least officially. In 1978, 39 tigers were "counted" and it was 43 in 1980, 49 in 1982, 54 in 1983, 58 in 1991, 66 in 1993 and 79 in 1999 while there were 88 leopards. These figures were arrived at through the dubious pugmark count and it is significant that the number of herbivore animals such as spotted deer and sambar did not increase proportionately to support tigers and leopards whose numbers were said to have registered a steady increase.

Some naturalists aver that the official tiger figures are inflated and have disputed the number provided by the department.