Experts question tiger numbers

The total tiger population was pegged at 2,967 in July this year. File Photo

The total tiger population was pegged at 2,967 in July this year. File Photo

India’s tiger numbers have come under the scanner as experts, including wildlife scientist Ullas Karanth, have questioned the enumeration methodology in a new paper published in a scientific journal.

India reported a 33% increase in the number of tigers in the wild in July this year, and the total tiger population was pegged at 2,967, a third more than the 2014 enumeration.

But a new paper titled ‘How sampling-based over dispersion reveals India’s tiger monitoring orthodoxy’ by Arjun M. Gopalaswamy and others, published in the scientific journal ‘Conservation Science and Practice’, published on November 4 has questioned the veracity of the data and claims that the methodology adopted was flawed.

A release issued by Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS), Bengaluru, said that the paper was authored by Mr. Gopalaswamy from the Indian Statistical Institute; Mr. Karanth from the Centre for Wildlife Studies; Mohan Delampady from the Indian Statistical Institute; and Nils C. Stenseth from the University of Oslo.

It said the Indian tiger survey methodology was developed by the Wildlife Institute of India and the National Tiger Conservation Authority and conducted country-wide by Forest Department officials. “The criticisms levelled so far have ranged from fundamental mathematical flaws, design deficiencies and manipulation of photographic data, and a total lack of transparency in data-sharing with independent scientists capable of reliably reviewing the analyses and results,” said the release. Though the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change (MOEFCC), which oversees both NTCA and WII, has stoutly denied these criticisms, it has not provided valid rebuttals in scientific forums, it added.

Scientific paper

According to the release, the scientific paper published demonstrates the flawed and misleading inferences that can be generated by relying on the methodology adopted in tiger enumeration based on ‘index of tiger abundance’ derived from field counts of tiger signs. “The government surveys assume that a tight predictive relationship exists between real tiger numbers and their sign,” the release said.

The authors of the new study have recommended a comprehensive re-analysis of India’s tiger survey data and a new tiger monitoring besides calling upon the government to share the raw tiger survey data, analyses, and results with the wider scientific community to ensure a safe future for wild tigers.

Mr. Karanth said the cumulative results of four MOEF tiger surveys conducted at great cost to tax payers, generate unreliable results and misdirect conservation efforts and investments.

“The time has come to throw these methods out — lock, stock and barrel — like the country did earlier with the infamous ‘pug mark census’ in 2005. Instead, the Prime Minister needs to create a bold new public-private partnership of qualified scientists and conservationists, to employ modern rigorous survey methods to generate reliable results to guide the conservation of our national animal,” he added.

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2022 2:39:39 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/experts-question-tiger-numbers/article29976354.ece