Over 200 or 70: Difference in Sundarbans tiger numbers?

March 28th, 2011 - 9:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, March 28 (IANS) How many tigers are there in West Bengal’s Sundarbans area? While the latest national tiger census puts the figure at 70 in the dense mangrove forest, the last census done in 2009 by the state forest department says there are more than 200 big cats there.

State forest officials Monday said they were in the dark about the number of big cats in the Sundarbans as reported in the tiger census.

“We are not yet aware about the report of the tiger census conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) Dehra Dun. They have not communicated with us in this regard,” said state Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife and Bio-diversity) S.B. Mondal.

“Even the report was prepared after analysing some data we had sent. And we have no knowledge about how the WII experts analysed the data,” Mondal said.

The census report released in New Delhi counted the tigers in Sundarbans for the first time. It reported an increase - of 295 - in the number of tigers in the wild in India, putting the total at 1,706.

According to Mondal, this is not the first time that the tigers in Sundarbans were counted.

“Tigers in West Bengal were counted at regular intervals. The last three tiger census were conducted in 2004, 2006 and 2009,” he said.

“This year the WII team led by Y.V. Jhala, faculty member of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, asked us to provide them with the data on Sundarbans. We were given four forms to fill up after noticing the vegetation and wildlife while crossing the area,” said Mondal.

“Our officials while ferrying along the creeks and rivers in Sudarbans core area noted down the wildlife according to their species and the nature of vegetation they found on both sides. Another official was engaged to record the same through GPS receivers. And the entire data was sent to them,” said Mondal.

Earlier, the state forest department conducted tiger census based on traditional process of counting pug marks and analysing scat samples. “In 2004, the tiger count at Sunderbans was 274, but it evoked much controversy among the experts. Later tiger census was conducted with the help of the experts of the Zoological Survey of India (Kolkata) and researchers of the Indian Statistical Institute. In 2009 also the number was above 200,” said the senior official.

“Though, we had heard that more scientific methods of camera trapping will be used to count the tigers in Sundarbans, such cameras could not be installed because of the dense mangrove forests and salinity of water,” said a senior forest official.

“Earlier, we planned to install sensor-fitted cameras on the tree trunks and in other places, but the project could not be done. Even the radio collars tagged to some tigers were found to be defunct after a few days. And the experts of WII were informed and requested to give suggestions to make the radio-collar more effective,” said Joint Director of Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve and present Director of Alipore Zoological Garden, Raju Das.

It was revealed that the terrain of the Sundarbans, where tigers alternate between land and saline water, may be one of the reasons for the radio collar getting defunct. Moreover, it can easily come off a tiger’s neck as the big cats have to negotiate through dense mangrove forest, said the forest official.

“And so far we know, the WII team did not use such technology like sensor fitted camera while counting the tigers in Sunderbans,” he said.

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