Monday, February 20, 2012

Two direct tiger sightings in Melghat during census

Vijay PinjarkarVijay Pinjarkar, TNN Feb 21, 2012, 06.27AM IST

NAGPUR: Tigers are always elusive in Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR), fondly called 'Kipling Country'. But two direct sightings during the nine-day Phase IV tiger estimation exercise has thrilled field staff and officials. This may be perhaps the first time such sightings have been recorded during the census.

The exercise on distance sampling to know density of ungulates through line transects concluded on Sunday. It started on February 10 and was conducted in over 6,250 beats in protected as well as non-protected areas in state, including tiger-bearing patches in Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra (FDCM). Now, exercise to know 'proportions of animals captured' with the help of camera traps will start in March and will continue for 45-60 days.

Melghat, known for its mystifying landscape with high hills and deep valleys, revealed clinching evidence of carnivores like pugmarks, scrapes and scent marks, scats etc. Field staff sighted a tiger on February 13 while walking on the transect line in Somthana range of Wan sanctuary (part of Melghat) and another tiger was seen near Semadoh on February 16. One direct tiger sighting has also been recorded in FDCM area of Chandrapur.

VK Sinha, chief conservator (CCF) & field director of Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR), says there could be more such records from TATR once data is compiled. The analysis of data will be done by researchers at the regional level. "Based on this data, camera traps will be installed," he added.

AK Mishra, CCF & field director of MTR, was overjoyed by the direct tiger sightings. He too admits that due to complex landscape and dense forest cover, sightings are rare. However, he said that tigers have occupied territories in all the three villages relocated a year ago.

"The exercise was done in 275 beats. With two pairs of cameras in each beat, we'll need 450 cameras from March 1. It will help us find the individual tiger numbers of the reserve," Mishra said.

The MTR documentation at different levels and data collected shows presence of around 50 tigers. However, in 2010, the monitoring of tigers, co-predators and prey as per the instructions of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Wildlife Institute of India ( WII), Dehradun, revealed that MTR supports population of 39 tigers in 1,800 sq km.

In MTR's 230 sq km Dhargad range, comprising Gurgipati, Koktu, Kelpani, Bori, Boripati and Gullarghat, huge evidence of carnivore and herbivore presence was recorded. These dense forest patches are said to have half of MTR's tiger population. Regular sightings of bisons, chitals, sambars, and sloth bears were reported around transect lines here.

Field director AK Mishra, Akot deputy conservator of forests (DyCF) Vijay Godbole and ACF Pramod Panchabhai closely monitored the drive by walking on transect lines. Godbole says it is important to note that more animals in an area may not result in enhanced detection probability, since the latter is governed by terrain features, cover, visibility etc.

The 2010 tiger assessment involved three phases. This will be for the first time fourth phase will be added to the three phases. Across 41 tiger reserves, the 2010 assessment estimated 1,706 tigers (range between 1,571 and 1,875).

The Way Ahead

Camera traps at density of one pair per 4-5 sq km

Minimum trap nights of a 1,000 per 100 sq km (i.e. 25 pairs of cameras in 100 sq km for 40 days)

Minimum area coverage of 400 sq km

Closure period of 40 to 60 days

Entire reserve needs to be sampled

In case of larger reserves like MTR, the area will be covered by dividing into blocks for camera trapping

Two transects of 2-km length for each beat to be walked three times during each season. This protocol should be done for two seasons (summer and winter)

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