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Camera-trapping of tiger starts, partial census results by Dec
Published on 9 Mar. 2010 10:52 PM IST
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The number of tigers in three major landscapes - Terrai, Central India and the Western Ghats - home to 80 percent of India\’s tigers, will be known by December, but a countrywide total would be available only by March next year, an official involved in the ongoing census of big cats said. About 500,000 sq km of forests, including 39 tiger reserves in 17 states, are being surveyed. “We would know the tiger numbers in three major landscapes by December - Terrai, Central India and the Western Ghats. Although the estimation process for the entire country would be over only by March next year,” professor Y.V. Jhala of Wildlife Institute of India (WII), told IANS. He said: “not only tiger reserves, but all forest areas in the country will be covered.” The last census in 2005-06 showed a sharp fall in tiger numbers. The census then conducted with an improved method revealed India had just 1,411 tigers left in the wild, raising serious concern about their survival. Jhala said a new phase involving camera-trapping of tigers has begun. “Researchers have started this exercise, as the ground work involving the forest staff is almost completed.” Each camera costs about Rs. 10,000 and is especially designed for deployment in forests. It has censors that trigger the camera to take pictures automatically whenever animals come within range in front of its lens. They are usually attached to a tree. Batteries and the film of the camera are replaced manually when they run out. Since they are produced in small numbers in India, demand for large quantities is met through imports. “The Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore produces them but only in limited number for research purpose,” says Rahul Kaul, director of Wild Species Programme of the NGO Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), which will lay the camera-traps in Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar for tiger monitoring. “We will need at least 100 cameras in each site. We are hoping to get some from WII, but the rest we have to purchase,” Kaul said, adding these cameras are commercially produced in the US. WII had been assigned by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to procure these cameras for use in the current census. “The whole exercise (census) focuses on the habitat available for tiger and tiger occupancy in those areas. Even last time, the surveyed areas were graded good, not so good and poor,” said Diwakar Sharma, associate director, Species Conservation Programme of the NGO Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) India. “So when we get the estimation this time, it will show the status of the habitat, number of tigers in those areas, and thus helping to arrive at the overall figure. That is why you get the minimum to maximum (population) range,” he explained. The survey also aims to study prey base of tigers, crucial for its survival. Before the estimation began in January, WII and the NTCA gave extensive training to forest staff tasked with the census. NGOs and individual experts were also trained. They also brought out a field guide to help the staff in the census. Poaching, shrinkage of habitat and man-animal conflict continue to haunt tigers in the country, resulting in their fewer numbers.

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