Counting tigers

The tiger census kicks off a row

Published: Thursday 31 May 2001

as india prepares for its eighth tiger census, controversy mars the very credibility of the exercise. While some conservationists support the old method of counting the tiger population through pugmarks, another group suggests the use of sophisticated cameras to arrive at an close estimate.

The debate got precipitated when Union welfare minister Maneka Gandhi recently questioned the authenticity of the conservationists' claim that there are 4,500 tigers in the country. Gandhi put the figure at 800. According to census report, the number of tigers has gone up: from 1,827 in 1972 to 3,508 in 1997.

The most serious allegation against the exercise is that the very agencies whose responsibility it is to ensure protection of tigers are also involved in carrying out the census. In fact, in 1992, the Project Tiger steering committee decided to involve independent experts and institutions to make the census exercise credible. However, it was felt that untrained personnel could make the census even more unreliable.

Ashok Kumar from the Wildlife Protection Society of India says that the survey conducted by the National Tiger Reserve and the various forest departments are not authentic. However, he feels that the old method of counting pugmarks is suitable for Indian conditions. Mahesh Rangarajan, a wildlife expert, feels that pugmark method has proved to be a disaster in many countries. "The camera trap method and some other scientific methods have somehow managed to give the appropriate figure," he says.

The option of camera trap method is often discarded citing its high cost and unsuitability to Indian conditions. P Raghuveer, Andhra Pradesh's coordinator for tiger census, says, "In Indian situation, which consists a high density of tiger population, we need more cameras as one camera can count only four to five tigers per square kilometre."

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