Initial results of a census conducted by Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) indicate far lesser number of tigers in India than was
previously recorded. The results were presented on May 23. Data for the present census was collected from 16 of India's 28 tiger reserves and their
surrounding areas. The final results will be presented in December.
"We found that the maximum loss was seen in areas outside tiger reserves. Reserves usually maintain healthy population," says Y V Jhala of WII. "Tigers often stray into buffer areas, which need more protection," Jhala adds.
More than 55 per cent of India's tiger population is believed to be outside reserves (2,066 out of 3,642 as per the 2001-02 census). The census said that Madhya Pradesh (MP) had 700 tigers--the highest in the country. The WII study says only 265 are left in the state--a decline of about 65 per cent.It also said that Chhattisgarh is left with 25 tigers, Maharashtra 95 and Rajasthan 32 tigers.
But experts are not sure if this is a real decline. "Earlier censuses used pugmark spottings to determine tiger population, which is considered unscientific. Also, data was systematically fabricated to show an increasing trend in population," Jhala says. The WII census used actual tiger sightings using camera traps, pugmarks and faeces for the tiger count.
WII claims habitat destruction and encroachments, which led to reduced living areas, are the primary reasons for the reduced numbers. "A tiger reserve should be able to accommodate at least 20 breeding units," says Jhala. However, while Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan can accommodate about eight to 10 breeding units, Pench Tiger Reserve in MP can house just five. While most tiger reserves saw a decline in numbers, the Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve recorded healthy population--112 in 500 sq km.
Remedial measures suggested by WII include corridors to connect various tiger reserves, like Pench and Kanha in MP. This will help them move and hunt freely and reduce the risk of inbreeding, which in the long run reduces their genetic diversity. WII has also said the source population should be increased by giving more protection to tigers and increasing the buffer zone around reserves.
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