Census over, fingers crossed over exact number
TNN, 7 February 2010, 06:57am IST
NAGPUR: The first phase of the six-day exercise undertaken by the forest department to monitor tigers, co-predators, prey and their habitat concluded in protected and non-protected tiger-bearing areas of the state on February 3. The exercise was conducted with revised and refined line transect methodology. The figures are likely to be declared after six months.
In Maharashtra, the exercise was conducted in over 6,000 beats in protected (PAs) as well as non-protected areas (NPAs), including tiger-bearing patches of Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra (FDCM) in Chandrapur and Gondia districts. Over 200 volunteers actively participated in the exercise in Melghat, Pench and Tadoba-Andhari tiger reserves and PAs like Bor, Nagzira and Navegaon. Barring Nagzira and Navegaon, where the exercise was conducted from January 27 to February 1, in other areas it was held between January 29 and February 3.
In the first phase (Jan 29-31), field staff obtained data on the presence and intensity of use of a beat by tigers and other carnivores like leopards, wild dogs, sloth bears and jackals. Each search covered around 12-15 km distance, having the best potential for tiger presence. For each transect, beginning and end point co-ordinates (latitude & longitude) was recorded by a global positioning system (GPS).
Since tigers and leopards have a tendency of using dirt roads, trails, footpaths, river beds and nullahs, these landscapes in the beat were searched intensively. The search for tiger and leopard signs included pugmark trails, scat, scrape and scent marks, rake marks on tree trunks, roaring and actual sighting.
In the second phase (Feb 1-3), sampling for ungulate (relating for animals with hooves) encounter rates was done by the field staff and volunteers while walking along fixed line transects of 2 km in a beat. Here, data on vegetation, terrain, forest type, direct sightings of animals, habitat category and human disturbance too was recorded.
The volunteers also helped the field staff sample vegetation along the transects. Signs of wood-cutting, presence of humans, trails, livestock herbs, grasses, litter and bare ground was also recorded. Sampling for faecal pellets of animals with hooves was also done to know their abundance.
Although there were many who applied for the exercise, only a few turned up. At many places, only 50% of those registered actually participated. In TATR, conservator & field director SP Thakre said that 107 volunteers had applied but only 58 participated.
"Our staff was ready for the entire exercise sans volunteers too. The TATR is teeming with evidence of tigers and there was great enthusiasm among wildlife buffs. We traced evidence in almost every beat. There were even direct sightings in Kolsa and Tadoba ranges," Thakre told TOI.
In Tadoba, field staff found evidence of tiger scat having eaten a leopard. "Six nails suspected to be of a leopard have been found in the scat, which was one-month-old, near Pandharpaoni. The samples will have to be analysed," he said.
In Nagzira (152 sq km) there was good response from volunteers. MM Kulkarni, deputy conservator of forests (DyCF) for Gondia Wildlife Division, informed of the 24 who registered, 20 took part. Evidence was traced in almost all the beats. There was direct sighting of a bear.
CS Reddy, RFO of Bor Sanctuary, said tiger evidence was found in 8 beats. "We also found evidence of panther," he said.
In Pench too, there was evidence of fair number of tigers in various beats.
GK Vashisht, ACF for Pench Tiger Reserve, informed that all forested beats in tiger landscapes (tiger reserves, PAs, reserve and protected forests, revenue forests) will be sampled once in four years. However, all source populations of tigers in reserves and PAs will be sampled with this protocol twice in a year in summer and winter. The data will be compiled at the circle level before being sent to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Wildlife Institute of India (WII).
In Kolsa, volunteers like Dinesh Visavadia and Nishant Adhiya and others who came from Junagadh in Gujarat enjoyed the exercise. "We travelled 1200 kms to know about tigers," remarked Visavadia.
The new system was introduced by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in collaboration with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, on the recommendations of Tiger Task Force (TTF) set up after the Sariska debacle. The earlier method of taking pug-marks, introduced in the 70s, was directly related to the number of particular animals. It was withdrawn after 2007.
As per the official estimation of tigers and panthers in 2007, there are 148 tigers and 292 panthers in the 42 protected areas (PAs) in the state. However, as per the last circle-wise estimation, which is conducted once in four years and was last held in 2005, the state has a record of 268 tigers and 717 leopards. Amid poaching pressures, it's too early to guess what will be the population of carnivores this time.