How Many Tigers Are There in India ?
If you ask this question to 2316 people you will get 2316 different answers.
The NGOs will try to give the smallest possible number and the forest officials will try to give the largest possible number as both have their own reasons directly related to funding, promotion, media miles etc.
But the reasons are not difficult to find as to why we do not have the exact number. See a tiger in a jungle has no interest to be counted. Given a choice it will not come to face the cameras that hundreds of Facebook photographers and blogger like me point at the first hint of a tiger hiding in bushes. A family like Telia Tigers in Tadoba is an exception as they grew under photographers glare and are used to camera. But for every Telia tiger there are another 10 in wild who have never seen a photographer and would like it that way.
So far in most of tiger reserves the pug marks method was used to guess the population of tigers. The method had many challenges
- It is not suitable for all terrains e.g. on grass, on rocky patches etc.
- Totally depends on the condition of soil if the soil is too wet then the pressure of tigers weight increases the size of pugmarks leading to wrong calculations
- Possibility of confusion between large cubs and leopards
- You may recalculate same tiger again in two different geographical area as Tigers love to roam around and often cross boundaries of national park.
This does not mean that the method is totally useless it has its own merit though time consuming and accuracy levels vary from +-15 percent or more depending on who you are talking to.
Anyway I was very happy when as part of our Eco Volunteer training course in Bandipur Tiger Reserve, one session was dedicated to Tiger Census, the challenges and the new Tiger Camera Traps.
The technique is fairly simple yes very preciese. You attach two sturdy encased cameras on two trees on a path where tigers are known to walk by observing the earlier pug-marks (see the pug-mark method has its uses).
The camera is weather proof and is activated by motion, so every time a tiger or for that matter any animal passes in front of the camera the camera quickly captures an image. Now since the camera is on both the side of the path you get both left and right side of the camera. Now you may wonder what happens in night. Well the camera designers were smart bunch of people and in the night a flash is automatically activated when the camera fires. So you get pictures of animals in night also.
There are a few advantages of this method
- You get to see the real tiger not circumstantial evidence
- You capture pictures of other animals in jungle like peacocks,Gaur, wild elephants, leopards etc. This helps in finding out the density of food sources of tiger
- There is no chance of confusing large cubs with Leopards.
- From pictures one can find out about the health and age of tigers also any visible injuries that one may see e.g. this Scarface Tiger in Bandipur whose face injury I captured in my normal camera.
- You get a very accurate number of tigers in a given geographical area and duplicate sightings are automatically removed by the software. Man do I love technology or what?
Once the pictures are taken back to the base they are uploaded in software and it matches the pattern of the stripes on a tiger picture. Now if is confirmed that each tiger has unique style of stripes just like human finger prints. Once the stripes are matched you come to know a lot of things about the tiger in question. You have the exact location, time of the picture being captured. Now if this same tiger is captured in another camera at some distance away you know the movement pattern of the tiger, it geographical territory.
As part of our Eco Volunteer Training we actually went deep inside the Tiger territory in Bandipur Tiger reserve and practiced setting up of tiger trap cameras.
These pictures you see here are from that very trip. It was raining heavily during the setting of the Tiger camera traps but you can see the enthusiasm of the Eco Volunteers and in true “If anything can go wrong it will go wrong” style our bus got stuck in mud and slush and the volunteers pushed it out of the slush. I was excused from pushing the bus as I was clicking pictures. Well some perks of being a wildlife photographer even if it is your hobby. ( or was it because of my age? Let me be happy for a second and continue to believe it was because I was clicking pictures)
I am going again to Bandipur this week and will try to bring some pictures captured by the camera trap that we have set up. Keep watching this space till then.
Let us work towards safer tigers abundant tigers and zero man animal conflict. Here is a list of other posts in the Eco Volunteer Training Course- Bandipur Series
- Eco Volunteer Training Course Bandipur Tiger Reserve
- First Day of Eco Volunteer Training Bandipur Tiger Reserve
- Stay at Forest Rest House Bandipur Tiger Reserve
- Anti Poaching Camp- Day in Life of A Forest Guard
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