In the ongoing exercise to enumerate the tiger numbers at Bandipur and Nagarahole, the elephants and the gaurs too are standing out to be counted in high numbers. For, their size and their visibility in plain sight makes them easier to track unlike tigers that tend to lurk in the shadows, hide in the bushes or are easily camouflaged by the surrounding vegetation.
“It is not just the tigers but even the elephants and gaurs are being counted as part of the All India Tiger and Mega Herbivore Enumeration,” said Mahesh Kumar, Director, Nagarahole Tiger Reserve.
But it is pertinent to note that the tiger estimation exercise does not rely on direct sighting of the big cat nor is it about individual counts but of estimating a population range. It also takes into account the camera trap images as part of Phase IV of the survey. Besides, other telltale signs like scat, pug and scratch marks, etc., are considered before the scientists analyze the data and arrive at a figure based on various parameters.
On the first day of the census in Nagarahole which commenced on Sunday, a good number of elephants were sighted as were the gaurs but there were no direct sightings of the tigers. More than 300 field staff have been deployed in Nagaraholecovering the 91 beats. The exercise commenced around 7 a.m. and the data was being studied, scrutinized and uploaded to the MSTRIPE (Monitoring System for Tigers – Intensive Protection and Ecological Status) app that is being used in the exercise.
It was the same scenario in Bandipur on Saturday where no tigers were sighted on the first day of the exercise though the national park has some of the highest densities of the big cat in the country. While there were 126 individual tigers identified based on camera trapped images, the actual numbers based on other signs were pegged at around 173 in Bandipur and their numbers are expected to stabilize around 200 this year.
However, V. Karikalan, DCF, Mysuru, who also holds additional charge of Bandipur, said the first day exercise entailed covering some of the shrub forests on the periphery and hence the tigers may not have been sighted while there were no dearth of elephants and gaurs.
He hastened to add that the tiger census was not about physical sighting of the big cat but also included other parameters. The data would be analyzed by scientists to arrive at the population density in a landscape with statistical tools.
In the 2018 exercise, the largest contiguous tiger population in the world was found in the Western Ghats (Nagarhole-Bandipur-Wayanad-Mudumalai-Satyamangalam-BRT block) and the numbers were pegged at about 724 tigers.
The same landscape also supported the largest Asiatic elephant population and the same trend can be expected in the ongoing exercise.