Tiger census to begin in Sunderbans
20 Feb 2009, 0531 hrs IST, Prithvijit Mitra, TNN
KOLKATA: The jinxed tiger census at Sunderbans will finally take off this month. It will use a new method and employ technology that has never been used for taking a big cat count anywhere else in the country. Officials of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) confirmed that the decks have been cleared and a blueprint put in place for the job that will also include a study of tiger behaviour in the mangrove forest. The last census was conducted in the Sunderbans in 2001 that put the tiger population at 265. It was later disputed by a software analysis which led to the stalling of the 2006 census.
This time, the WII will use an imported radio collar. Being purchased at a cost of Rs 3.5 lakh each, the authorities plan to buy 10 of them from Canada. These are going to be "tougher and more suitable" for Sunderbans conditions unlike the one used in December 2007 that had malfunctioned.
"The new collars have been successfully used on elephants, mountain lions and polar bears abroad. We will do minor adjustments to make them fit for Sunderbans. The new ones are infinitely more tough than the previous model and should function effectively. Once they start functioning, the proper census will begin," said Y Jhala, professor, WII who is among the experts conducting the census. Now in Kolkata for a conference on saving the Royal Bengal Tiger, Jhala said tt will take around eight months to procure the collars.
New methods for census will be used this time. "We are going to map the pugmark density. It will be easier once we have installed the radio collars. The collared tigers will be tracked and only fresh their pugmarks collected and analysed. This will give us a more accurate picture. We are also going to collect and analyze tiger droppings. It has been successfully used at some sanctuaries in India and should work at Sunderbans as well," said Jhala.
Experts welcomed the move. "The census was due for a long time. It is good that the authorities have finally decided to do it using modern methods. It is important to have the correct tiger population of the Sunderbans," said Pranabesh Sanyal, former director of the Sunderban Tiger Reserve (STR).
Elaborating on the technology to be used, Jhala said the collars will transmit signals to a satellite station abroad that will divert them back to a local station. Movements of each of the ten tigers to be collared will be followed for several months for the study and the census.
Dispelling claims that the Sunderbans tiger behaved differently from those in other forests, the expert said that barring a few behavioural alterations that have come about owing to the terrain, their behaviour was same.
"Two things about the Sunderbans tiger are still not clear. One is it's home range and the other is the mystery where they retreat during high tide when water gushes into the forest. Both will now be revealed," said Jhala.
Even though the census will have no "base figure", WII experts "guessed" the tiger population at Sunderbans to be somewhere between 50 and 100.