From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Tiger Census
Mains level : Methodology of tiger census
Ever since they slumped to an all-time low of around 1,400 in 2006-2007, India’s tiger numbers have increased. The last Tiger Census Report put the population at 2,967, a 33% increase over 2014 when tigers were last enumerated.
Doubts on numbers
- Counting methods – the achievements in conservation have been clouded by doubts over the counting methods. An investigation revealed that the last tiger census had over-reported the population by 16%.
- National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has taken the first step towards introducing correctives. It has admitted the necessity of “bringing more scientific robustness to the exercise”.
- Pawprints – In the 1970s, when India embarked on Project Tiger, conservation authorities sought to identify every tiger in the wild from its paw print. Scientists criticised this method as highly subjective and riddled with duplication.
- Investigation in the past – In 2005, when this newspaper reported that the Sariska National Park in Rajasthan had lost all its tigers, pug mark surveys had claimed that all was well at the reserve.
- Change in methods – Since 2006, tiger audits have relied on camera traps. They have estimated the animal’s prey base and tried to gauge the health of the tiger’s habitats. All this has helped the NTCA and WII to arrive at more realistic numbers.
- Some issues – The quality of camera traps has been a major issue in several reserves and scientists have contended that the NTCA and WII have not devised sound protocols.
- Doubts – It counted under-age cubs, and methods used to identify the uniqueness of an individual animal were given short shrift and the problem of duplication resurfaced.
- Peer reviews – the agency has dismissed calls to subject the tiger census procedures to peer reviews.
It is important to pass this credibility test. Otherwise, India’s greatest wildlife protection success story will not have a place in the scientific literature. Tiger conservation will continue to be linked to attempts to score political points.
NTCA along with the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) conducts the tiger census.