Tiger census gets under way in State

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MYSORE, December 19:  The six-day tiger enumeration that got under way in the State as part of the nationwide exercise on Wednesday, is reckoned to be the world’s largest endeavour to count or estimate tigers in the wild.

More than 1,000 volunteers had registered for the State-wide tiger enumeration which will cover not only the notified Project Tiger reserves in the State but also other reserve forests and wildlife sanctuaries. Vinay Luthra, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), told The Hindu that an area of nearly 40,000 sq. km was being covered. “We are also assessing the status of prey density, co-predators and habitat status,” he added. The final results are expected to take between 6 and 8 months, Mr. Luthra said.

Karnataka has around 300 to 320 tigers as per the 2010 census and the bulk of it was in the tiger reserves of Bandipur (Mysore-Chamarajanagar districts), Nagarahole (Mysore-Kodagu) Bhadra (Chikamagalur), BRT Wildlife Sanctuary (Chamarajanagar), and Anshi-Dandeli (Uttara Kannada). However, there are indications of spill over population groups inhabiting areas outside the tiger reserves and the enumeration exercise would throw more light on it, according to H.C. Kantharaj, director, Bandipur Tiger Reserve.

The total tiger population range was in excess of 500 in the entire Western Ghat landscape complex spread over Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

The protocol for tiger enumeration has been devised by wildlife scientists and vetted by the National Tiger Conservation Authority and Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, and is being followed uniformly across the country. The procedure entails collecting field data at the beat level in the first phase followed by habitat analysis using satellite data and camera trapping methods in the subsequent phases. The data will be audited by wildlife scientists and experts.

“The methodology is simple and robust and the estimation will be based on studies of systematically distributed sampling units or beats throughout the tiger landscape. While the volunteers will seek signs of carnivores on the first three days by way of direct sighting and indirect evidence like scats or pellets and tracking pug marks, the focus will be on herbivore survey and vegetation for the remaining three days to give a holistic picture of the entire landscape,” Mr. Kantharaj said.

Volunteers will walk along the transect line and cover 15 km spread over three days and record carnivore signs. While 232 volunteers would collect samples in Bandipur, 106 would do it in Nagarahole. R. Gokul, Conservator of Forests, said this was a total census of carnivore, herbivore and vegetation which would give a holistic picture of the entire food chain in which tiger held the apex place.

The territorial forest area which are not under project tiger, are larger and is being covered across the State as any spill over animal population may have inhabited these ranges or their numbers diminished and the ongoing enumeration exercise will give a better picture of animal dispersal. The 2010 census pegged the tiger population across the country between 1,571 at the lower end and 1,875 at the higher end.

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