Tiger count aims to prevent extinction
Wildlife experts in
Hundreds of officials armed with radio collars and night-vision cameras fanned out across the largest natural tiger habitat of
Using speedboats, the experts are employing high-tech methods to do the count based on sightings of tell-tale footprints, or pugmarks.
A century ago, there were about 100,000 tigers world-wide but now numbers are less than a few thousand.
The tiger is protected in
Last March, it emerged the entire tiger population of up to 28 animals living in the famous tiger reserve of Sariska had been wiped out by poachers, who make money from the illegal trade in skin, bones and dried organs used in Chinese medicine. Poaching and official indifference have blighted many Indian tiger reserves, such as Sariska, which are poorly protected.
Conservationists have criticised the pugmark system of counting tigers, which they argue gives an inaccurate assessment of the true size of a breeding population.
In response, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has formed a special taskforce to suggest ways of saving tigers and improving on the census.
For the first time the census will employ computer programs, camera traps and radio-collars tracked by satellite to avoid any duplication in recording pugmarks.
"This census is the world's biggest and the most scientific to date," said Pradeep Vyas, the census chief in the Sunderbans.
The last census in 2003 estimated there were between 260 and 280 tigers in the Indian part of the Sunderbans, home also to hundreds of saltwater crocodiles and rare river dolphins.
THE DECLINE OF A PREDATOR
* A tiger can weigh 450kg and measure 3m from its nose to its tail.
* Tiger numbers in the wild are thought to have plunged from 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century to between 5000 and 7000 today. They now range in the forests of south Asia, southeast Asia, southeastern
* A century ago,
- INDEPENDENT, REUTERS
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