A tiger census is currently on in 18 states of India, four years after the last count in 2014.
Wonder how tigers can be counted? An animal which is so elusive, how does one conduct the mammoth task of taking a count of all the tigers in India.
Earlier, it was done purely on the basis of pug marks. Finally digital technology and electronics has come to its rescue.
Around 15,000 pairs of camera ‘traps’ are being placed across protected areas and reserve forests in 18 States. Photographs of the big cats and indirect tiger signs will contribute to the fourth All India Tiger Estimation, undertaken to ascertain India’s current tiger population. Scientists will arrive at the final number only by the first quarter of 2019. The quadrennial survey will cover almost 4,00,000 sq km of tiger habitats in India. The almost 500-day-long process began in December 2017 across different parts of the country and is being designed by scientists at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).
So how do they make out one from the other? Each tiger has a unique stripe pattern. By comparing them, either visually or using asoftware, scientists can identify individual tigers. There is also the probability that cameras may not capture every single tiger either because some of them may not have walked that way or the cameras may have malfunctioned when they did. To account for these eventualities, and also for methodological reasons, scientists study the number of times a specific tiger was captured on camera, as well as the number of times the cameras recaptured the same tiger again. This method, which also factors in the locations of the camera traps to estimate the population size, is known as ‘spatially explicit capture recapture’
And for the first time ever, India will be conducting the census along with the three other tiger-range countries — Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. Representatives from these countries have completed their training in India.
As we can see, it is a very complex process and we salute the people who spend hours in the forests, working alongside technology to give India the correct tiger estimates.