BALASORE : Speculations regarding the number of Royal Bengal Tiger (RBT) in Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR), the second largest in the country, have been put to rest with forest officials claiming to have spotted at least 25 tigers, including three melanistic (black) tigers, in the recently concluded survey.
The forest officials indicated that the population may be more as the census was conducted only in 400 sq km of 1,200-sq km core area. Earlier, the STR authorities had drawn flak from various quarters for declining number of RBTs.
Using pug-mark method, the STR had counted 101 tigers in 2004 and 61 in 2009. The number was challenged by National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Wildlife Institution of India (WII). The two organisations had estimated 23 (12-34) tigers by camera trapping method in 2010 which the forest officials had refused to buy.
Regional Chief Conservator of Forest (RCCF) Anup Nayak admitted that there was a dispute over the figure which was calculated in pug mark method that was objected by NTCA.
“There is no dispute now as the census has been carried out through camera taping procedure as recommended. Altogether 126 cameras were fixed at 63 points and the population was counted as per the core within the core principle,” he said.
Sources said most of the big cats were spotted in Na’ana South and North, Meghasan, Manchabank, STR 60, STR 9, Chahala and Upper Barhakamuda ranges, which are completely restricted for the people. What has brought cheers for the forest officials is that the big cats were only counted in one third area of the tiger reserve. Efforts were on to count the tigers in other areas too where their scats were found.
The RCCF said signs and scats of the RBTs were also spotted in Kendumundi, Satkosia, Joranda, Mukabadi, Jodapal and Khadkei areas. The census was started in January 2012 and so far five sign surveys have been completed, while the last one will be held in December after which the final report would be published.
“The prey base has also increased over the years in the tiger reserve which is altogether a different terrain. The prey population has increased to 28 per sq km from 7 per sq km. There are 500 water bodies and seven rivers passing through the forest. There is no shortage of food or water in the forest, which has become a good habitation for the big cats,” he said.
In 2009, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), after reviewing the functioning of the STR, had cast doubt over the tiger census figures presented by the then State forest authorities alleging that the pug mark method was not considered a fool proof methodology by experts.