Three states, four forest reserves, how many tigers?

May 4th, 2008 - 11:40 am ICT by admin  

By Papri Sri Raman
Coimbatore, May 4 (IANS) The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) says in its latest census report that the Nagarhole-Mudumalai-Bandipur-Wayanad reserve forests that straddle three states in the Nilgiris has about 266 tigers. The state governments of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala disagree. Adding the figures given by the three state governments, there are 290-295 tigers in these forests. That may not be far higher than WII’s 266 estimate, but is significant in a situation where the total number of tigers left in India’s forests is estimated to be just 1,411.

The Mudumalai sanctuary in Tamil Nadu is like a camel’s hump, flanked in the east by Karnataka’s Bandipur reserve forest and in the west by the Wayanad sanctuary in Kerala. South of it is the western-most district in Tamil Nadu - the Nilgiris.

Mudumalai falls within the Nilgiris bio-reserve. The WII report says: “the single largest population of tigers in India is within the Nagarhole-Mudumalai-Bandipur-Wayanad contiguous forest range covering the three states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala having a tiger occupancy in 10,800 sq km and an estimated tiger population of about 280 tigers.”

The practice has been to jointly manage the reserves in the three states and allow free movement of tigers and elephants in these areas.

Each of the three state governments, however, puts its tiger number somewhat higher than what the WII census says. Karnataka claims its Nagerhole-Bandipur reserve holds nearly 200 tigers.

According to Wildlife Warden Wayanad-Mudumalai Deepak Mishra: “Based on direct sightings, pugmarks on land and claw marks on trees and droppings”, tiger population in the Wayanad sanctuary is stable at 10-15. Survey teams here have really “seen as many as five tigers”.

Tamil Nadu’s own estimates are that there are about 105 tigers in its forests. The WII census says there were 61 tigers in the state in 2001-2002, which increased to 76 in the 2006 census - the only forest in India where the number has increased significantly.

Sankar, the tiger monitoring programme coordinator for the Pollachi and Kanykumari ranges, says: “There are about eight to 10 tigers in the two smaller ranges in Tamil Nadu and there may be up to 80 tigers in the Mudumalai range.”

Adding the figures given by the three state governments, the number of tigers in the Nagarhole-Mudumalai-Bandipur-Wayanad reserves would total 290-295, compared to WII’s 266.

There are discrepancies between the WII and state government figures elsewhere too. Based on the WII census, the country’s apex National Tiger Conservation Authority says there are 46 tigers in all in the forests of Kerala. But the state government claims there are 75-80.

The Periyar tiger reserve, the state believes, has 35 tigers against the WII estimate of 23. It says the Parambikulam reserve has 20 against the WII number of eight. There are more than 15 cubs in its forests, it says.

Amidst reports that at least three tigers were killed in the forests in the last three months, Kerala has now started an independent survey to count the number of tigers it has.

(Papri Sri Raman can be contacted at

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