Census figures do not show whether tiger population in the state is rising or falling
The Maharashtra forest department has been patting its back over the increase in the state's tiger population. The 2010 census had shown tiger numbers increasing to 169 from 103 recorded in 2006-2007. But these numbers are misleading if one considers the 2005 census which showed the presence of 268 tigers in the state's forest areas. This means the tiger population has actually declined steeply—from 268 to 169—in a span of six years. What's more, 77 of the 99 tigers which have dropped out of the list are missing from the forest records.
In the tiger census of 2005, the tiger numbers in the state’s tiger reserves was put at 268, up since the 2001-2002 census showing the presence of 238 tigers. But in the next census carried out in 2006 (findings were made public in July 2007) the numbers were found to have dropped dramatically by more than half—to 103 in the protected areas. However, the department doubted the accuracy of these figures on the ground that the census of 2006 was conducted only in the 4,273 sq km area of the Pench, Melghat and Tadoba Andhari tiger reserves, while other areas in the state had not been taken into account.
This lacuna was corrected in the 2010 census when all the recommendations of the National Tiger Conservation Authority were followed in the census procedure. However, the result—169 tigers, 74 in Tadoba, 39 in Melghat and 22 in the Sahyadri region—failed to unravel the mystery of the 99 tigers.
According to department figures, only 22 of these tigers are recorded as dead since 2005—four due to poaching, two in accidents and 16 due to natural disasters. There is no explanation in the records as to what happened to the remaining 77 tigers.
Earlier census results erroneous: officials
Forest department officials dismiss this discrepancy in figures by saying that earlier census methods were erroneous, but refuse to comment on whether these errors had caused tiger numbers to be exaggerated earlier, and which set of figures should be taken as accurate.
Bandu Dhotre of Chandrapur-based non-profit Eco-Pro, who has been actively involved in the 2005, 2006 and 2010 census exercises, says the recent censuses are conducted on more transparent and scientific lines, and figures are taken on averages. “The actual number of tigers present in a given area, Tadoba for instance, is likely to be higher than the number shown in the census.”
There are no clear-cut answers, and with another tiger census in the offing, one can only wonder if tiger numbers in the state are actually rising or falling, and whether census exercises can be considered reliable.
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