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Tiger census: Odisha experts dispute NTCA report

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Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Jan 22:

Wildlife experts in Odisha have gone into a denial mode and rejected the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) report which said there had been a sharp decline in tiger population in the state with the number of big cats down to an all time low of 28 in 2014.

Tiger Kuzya

Wildlife experts in the state have been unable to take the bitter pill and have questioned the scientific methods adopted in the tiger census considering the incoherence in the reports.

The NTCA under the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, in its report made public in New Delhi on Tuesday, had revealed that the tiger population in the country has gone up from 1,706 to 2,226 tigers, an increase of 30% in three years since 2011. However, the number of big cats in Odisha plunged from 32 to an all time low of just 28 during the same period.

‘‘The camera trap technique adopted by the Central teams to enumerate the tigers may be scientific and more advanced. But, the outcome is dependent on the integrity and dedication with which the people are working on field. In the 2004 tiger census, there were 132 big cats identified using the pug mark method. However, the central team report put the figures at 45. How could there be such a huge gap? We feel there is flaw in the census method. Some figures have been exaggerated,’’ former PCCF Bijayketan Patnaik said.

Of the 3,299 forest beats sampled by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in partnership with state forest department in Odisha during the study for tiger occupancy and tiger signs, only 81 beats recorded tigers. Out of 140 camera traps set up to capture tiger photographs, pictures of only six tigers were obtained.

‘‘Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) accounts for more than 50% of the population of the total tigers present in the state. In 1973, there were only nine tiger reserves. The number went up to 40 by 2004. Based on these figures, the census has been continuing till recently. There is no flaw in the scientific method. However, the people who implement it may have been doing it erroneously. The pug impression pads prepared to register the number of tigers are not being followed rigorously. We don’t give much attention to the details. We are convinced that the numbers are much high than the figures revealed by the NTCA,’’ wildlife conservation board member Dr Lala A K Singh said.

Similipal and Satkosia are two well known tiger habitats in the state. Poaching menace has contributed to a steady decline in the prey base in both the tiger reserves of the state. As the third proposed tiger reserve at Sunabeda is affected by left wing extremism, enumerators haven’t been able to estimate the tiger population in that area, a wildlife expert said.

The figure (28) trotted out by the WII is an estimation, not a counting number. The number depends on their methodology. They have covered 4000 sq km area, which is the core area of tiger habitation. They are doing it independently. We have done an in depth analysis of the tiger presence in the tiger reserves in the state. If this is done on a joint analysis method, the outcome could be more accurate,” Deputy Director of STR, Ajit Kumar Satpathy said.

Notably, Odisha has been steadily losing tigers over the last one decade despite crores of rupees of central aid being poured into protection and conservation of the big cats. The state had 45 tigers in 2006 which declined to 32 in 2010.

The camera trap method adopted by NTCA had captured six tigers in the state. However, taking other parameters into account, the body put the figures at 28. There has been 38% decline in numbers as compared to the 2006 census.

Chief wildlife warden S S Srivastava said the third phase camera tracking method to ascertain the number of tigers is continuing. “That the NTCA chose to make the report public before the census is over is really surprising,” he said.

Contrary to this, NCTA had said that around 80% photographs of tigers have been captured in the third phase tracking. Based on the tiger habitats, pug marks, satellite images and other indicators, the figures have been published.