Comparing camera trap pictures of tigers
Tiger source populations will be monitored annually using capture-recapture methods based on individual identification of tigers from camera trap data or fecal DNA.
A camera trapped tiger
The new protocol will put India's program well ahead of any other big cat monitoring program in the world.
Will make India world leader in big cat monitoring, say scientists.
In a move welcomed widely by the conservation and scientific community, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has adopted new refined protocols for intensive annual monitoring of tiger source populations under ‘Phase IV’ of National Tiger ...view middle of the document...
The annual camera trap survey to be completed in 45-60 days.
If deployment of camera traps in an entire reserve – or parts of it – is not feasible for any reason, fecal DNA samples may be collected within 45-60 day survey period and analysed to arrive at reserve wide tiger numbers using capture-recapture methods.
Protocols are also laid down for estimating prey densities using line transect surveys following design and analysis methods prescribed in program DISTANCE software.
This methodology will make monitoring results more directly linked to tiger numbers, and will ensure generation of reliable data amenable for sound analysis. It is expected to yield reliable estimates of tiger densities and numbers in all source populations where such scientific monitoring is taken up.
Welcoming the new protocol, Dr Ullas Karanth, Director Wildlife Conservation Society-India Program, says, “If implemented fully, this protocol will put India’s tiger monitoring program well ahead of any other big cat monitoring program anywhere in the world.” He acknowledged the “spirit of innovation” shown by Dr. Rajesh Gopal (Member Secretary — NTCA) and the solid cooperation of Sri PR Sinha (Director — WII) in introducing these refinements, which has balanced science with the realities on the ground. He acknowledged the initiative provided by former Minister Jairam Ramesh to the process in 2009, as well as the support from the current MEF Ms. Jayanthi Natarajan in providing steady support thereafter. Karanth views the new protocol as a major step forward and said that the collaborative process envisaged is also expected to bring wider participation of qualified scientists, as well as greater transparency.
Breaking with the past
India has indeed come a long way since the flawed pugmark census followed for over three decades since the inception of Project Tiger in 1973. According to Dr Karanth, the ‘pugmark census’ was “an extremely unreliable ad-hoc method, which allowed reserve managers to generate tiger numbers that often created a false sense of security.” He advocated capture-recapture sampling through the strategic deployment of automatic cameras in tiger habitats as an established, powerful method to photographically ‘catch’ samples of tigers from populations, in order to estimate numbers. He has developed these methodologies in Karnataka since 1990, in a series of research projects implemented in collaboration with the State Forest Department.
It may be worthwhile to mention here, that in 2004, when Sariska claimed a population of about 24 tigers — as counted by the pugmark census, the tiger was already extinct in the reserve.
The turnaround came in 2005, after a Tiger Task Force appointed by the Prime Minister, and chaired by environmentalist Sunita Narain, ruled that the ‘pugmark census’ was invalid, and recommended that it be abandoned in favour of modern approaches. Following this, the government switched to sampling-based country wide...