India’s tiger census, which began late last year, will see coordination with Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh in estimating the territorial spread of the animal in the subcontinent. While India has engaged with Nepal and Bangladesh in previous tiger counts, this is the first time all countries are uniting in arriving at tiger numbers, particularly in regions with shared borders. “We’ve had officials from these countries come to the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) for training,” said Y. Jhala, senior scientist. “This time we hope it will be a simultaneous exercise and tigers aren’t double-counted.”
Since 2006, the WII — a Union Environment Ministry-funded body — has been tasked with coordinating the tiger estimation exercise. The once-in-four-years exercise calculated, in 2006, that India had only 1,411 tigers. This rose to 1,706 in 2010 and 2,226 in 2014 in later editions on the back of improved conservation measures and new estimation methods. The survey — divided into four phases — began last winter and is expected to reveal its findings in early 2019.
Commissioned by the Union Environment Ministry’s National Tiger Conservation Authority, the Rs. 10 crore exercise this year involves 40,000 forest guards traversing 4,00,000 sq. km. of forests; wildlife biologists independently assessing them; approximately a year’s duration of field work; 14,000 camera traps; and coordination with 18 States. Along with tigers, the survey also collects information on the prey population of deer and other animals.
Forest guards have Android phones and an app to storedata. Officials said one challenge in past censuses was that a sighting, or traces of a tiger’s presence, had to be manually logged in. This led to errors in location data.