Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Tiger Census: AP scientists develop new method

TS Sudhir

Tuesday, November 21, 2006 (Hyderabad):

The disappearing tigers in Sariska created quite a storm last year with questions being raised about the efficacy of traditional methods used for counting tigers.

Scientists in Hyderabad have now developed a method based on DNA fingerprinting that will make it possible to account for every tiger.

For years, we have looked to their feet or more specifically the pugmark to know how many of them live in a particular sanctuary.

Now, scientists at the Hyderabad-based Lab for Conservation of Endangered Species have developed a more accurate way to count the tigers in the wild.

This first-of-its-kind method in the world uses the faecal samples to extract DNA and identifies individual tigers with unique DNA fingerprints.

"We can do the tiger census without seeing or catching the tiger. We do not have to collect all the faecal matter because that will be over thousands of acres. You can collect a few and use statistical method to predict the probable number," said Dr Lalji Singh, Director, CCMB.

The tiger shares its habitat with two other carnivores the leopard and the wolf.

As the biological material for the study was faecal sample it was important not to confuse the faecal samples of the three species.

DNA based method

So, first a DNA-based method to differentiate the faecal matters was developed.

The international community has accepted this method, which claims 99 per cent accuracy. Wildlife experts however, say they still cannot do away with the traditional methods.

"To localise the tiger, you have to still go for the pugmarks, the droppings to see where the tiger movement is. We have to first localise the beat of the tiger. After that, to make it more effective, to know the exact number, collect the faecal sample and get it analysed,'' said A V Joseph, Principal, Chief Conservator of Forests, AP.

If the government gives the go-ahead to this method in the tiger census, it will cost Rs 1.5 crore and every tiger in India can then be DNA typed.

That will help in identifying a tiger from its skin or any part, in cases of poaching.


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