Wildlife & Biodiversity

Tiger survey: Census work covers 400 sq km in Chhattisgarh’s Maoist territory

Indravati Tiger Reserve had three tigers in 2018-19

By Deepanwita Gita Niyogi
Published: Monday 27 December 2021
At Indravati Tiger Reserve, where a tiger census is underway. Photo: Deepanwita Gita Niyogi

The tiger census work covered 400 square kilometres in Indravati Tiger Reserve in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district. This is the first time tiger counting will be carried in such a large area of the reserve, which is a Maoist-affected area.

The tiger reserve spans 2799.1 sq km; the core area is 1,258.4 sq km. The reserve had three tigers in 2018-19, when the last census took place. 

The census work started in the region in November this year.

At Indravati Tiger Reserve. Photo: Chhattisgarh Forest Department 

The last census was poorly sampled in the region, according to the National Tiger Conservation Authority report, 2018. Chhattisgarh has 19 tigers, down from 46 in 2014.

DK Mehar, deputy director, Indravati National Park, said the forest is dense and highly sensitive.

“Such a vast area could not be taken up for the census last time in 2018. This time, however, we will concentrate on an entire sector. So far, 28 tiger scats have been collected and sent to Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun,” said Mehar. 

Mehar added:

The census work got over on December 24. The survey work done in 2014 and 2018 could not get certification as it was not clear that the tigers belonged to Indravati. In December 2020, we sent 11 scats; five tigers were confirmed for Indravati. Scat or camera trap pictures are the most authentic ones. The 400 sq km was divided into two parts. One part had 112 cameras and another 123. Seven scats of leopards have been collected.

Despite being poorly sampled, the connectivity between Tadoba Tiger Reserve and Indravati Tiger Reserve makes the latter an important tiger habitat in central India.

Census work, step by step

Training is imparted to field staff before the work starts. The census starts with a three-day trial period, where beat guards have to walk a minimum distance of 5-10 km and collect tiger scats.

A two-km line transects are laid, during which tree species are also identified. These lines are created in each beat, typically 1,500-2,500 hectares in size, though there are smaller ones too.

The main purpose of transect lines is to spot animals from a distance. There can be two-three such lines in a large beat area.

The most important part is fixing camera traps to capture images, which costs Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000.

A camera trap attached to a tree in Indravati Tiger Reserve. Photo: Deepanwita Niyogi

A camera trap is the most crucial piece of equipment and is usually attached near water bodies. A chip is present inside the camera. Date and time have to be manually entered.

“The battery time lasts depending on the capture rate of photos. It goes on for five-six days at least, and some even last up to 10-15 days. But the battery dies quickly in video mode,” said beat officer Sammaiya Modiyam of Bhopalpatnam range, Indravati.

Beat officer Ajay Kakem said that the model being used in Indravati is C15, but there are the latest models as well. He added that cameras are tied at a height of two feet for tigers. For an animal like the bison, the cameras must be tied at a height of 2.5 feet.

“In Bhopalpatnam range, every beat has two-three trap cameras. Where there is a kill and a water source, an animal is always nearby,” said Modiyam.

Both Bijapur and Sukma districts, about 161.4 km apart, are affected by the presence of Maoists. The districts often experience forest fires too.

“Tribals set fire to forests as it makes it easier for them to collect mahua flowers during March-April. Armed personnel also set fire to dried leaves for their safety, as walking on them gives them away. That is how fires spread inside forests,” a source who did not wish to be named said.

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