One of the world’s largest exercise to enumerate the big cats is under way in India under the supervision of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). However, the methods of assessment have lately come in for criticism.
Wildlife biologists and experts say the methodology is weak and could have been improved.
Dr Ullas Karanth, a respected tiger biologist and presently the Director for Science-Asia, Wildlife Conservation Society and Centre for Wildlife Studies, says, “There are two things presently under way termed as Phases I, II and III to estimate the total number of tigers in the country. This methodology is poor and statistically unreliable, yet is being repeated a third time. There is also another more intensive camera-trapping survey effort under Phase IV which selectively targets key ‘source populations’ only.”
“The complicated, ‘double-sampling’ based regression model is somewhat flawed and obsolete approach. Further, the quality of estimates of tiger densities from individual sites that feed into this model vary. There are better ways of doing this. This is a problem with government monopoly on tiger monitoring and funding, with no periodic review and updating of methods in this fast-growing field of quantitative ecology,” Dr Karanth elaborated.
K M Chinnappa, who has worked as a forest officer, says, “Recording of scats, pug marks is unreliable. Working with these methods, we had seen failures as even experienced foresters could not differentiate between a male and female pug mark.”
Refusing to comment on the methodology, Karnataka Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) G S Prabhu said, “We follow the directions and guidelines given by the NTCA and Wildlife Institute of India. If Dr Karanth and others have any issues about the methodology, they have to take it up with the NTCA. We are ready to follow any changes, if we are directed to. Dr Karanth is an international authority, we are fortunate to have him in Karnataka and he has been our greatest supporter. In fact, we have signed a five-year MoU with him for providing his expertise and training our staff,” he added. The tiger count was put at 1,706 in the last census (2010) . Since then, the tiger landscape has seen huge change like decrease in habitat, increased poaching and smuggling of tiger parts.