Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Sep 10:
The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) report reveals that there was a significant fall in the number of leopards in Odisha as compared to the last census held in 2004.
According to the 2004 census report, there were 192 tigers and 487 leopards in the state. Of the 487 leopards, there were 196 males, 248 females and 43 cubs. However, the latest NTCA report claims that there are only 345 leopards left in the state now.
If the report is anything to go by, the number of leopards has decreased by 142 in the last 11 years. The state government and wildlife experts find it hard to accept it.
“The numbers have decreased, but not so drastically. These big cats are mainly found in Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) and Brahmapur Circle where adequate number of cameras have been fitted to monitor their movement. In view of this, the number of leopards would naturally be higher than the figure mentioned in the report,” an official of the Forest and Environment department said.
Notably, the state used to follow the pugmark method for tiger census till 2004, but the Centre has introduced the camera-trap technique in 2006 asserting that it was more reliable.
The state government is of the view that the pugmark technique is more accurate than the camera-trap, but the NTCA is giving more emphasis on the camera-trap technique. “Cameras have not been fitted in a majority of wildlife sanctuaries. Besides, the number of cameras is not adequate wherever they have been installed. So the numbers are incorrect. In view of this, we are planning to undertake census of the leopards afresh with the pugmark method and release a new report,” the official added.
“We have given data as per the sampling method they had prescribed. However, they are giving more emphasis on the images captured by the camera-traps. The number of leopards in the state is high if the pugmarks are taken into consideration,” Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (wildlife) SS Srivastava said.
While wildlife experts do not fully agree with the state government’s stance, they are of the view that the NTCA report on the falling number of leopards is erroneous.
“The big cats’ population is increasing and the forest cover is decreasing. Considering this, the number of leopards might have fallen. But, it is unbelievable that the number can fall so drastically. Dense forests still exist at the areas where the leopards are found. The technology used in the enumeration is not fool-proof. The pugmark method used in 2004 gave accurate figures of leopards. The camera-trap technology in the latest census gave misleading results. The cameras fitted in forests are inadequate. Hence, the report is unacceptable,” environmentalist and wildlife activist Dr Lala AK Singh said.
There are eight wildlife circles in Odisha where tigers are found. They are: Bhawanipatna, Koraput, Angul, Sambalpur, Brahmapur, Rourkela, Bhubaneswar, and Similipal Tiger Reserve. It is obvious that the numbers would have decreased where the forest density has decreased, he added.