Sunderbans tiger census next month

Pradeep Vyas, director of the Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve (SBR) told reporters here that the census would be conducted in February. The exact dates would, however, be decided after the field training of staff was over. "Training of the staff is now underway and their field training will begin by the end of this month," Vyas said, adding 200 tiger guards will assist the census staff.

For the first time DNA sampling method would be tried for the tiger head counting in the famous mangrove forest, he said. Field director of the Sunderbans tiger reserve Subrat Mukherjee said that tiger scats would be collected from inside the forest and would be sent for analysis to determine the number of big cats.

Tiger counting has been traditionally done in the Sunderbans by ‘pug mark method’ in which the fresh impressions of the left hind pug were collected from the field and analysed.

The pugmark method was field-friendly, but not failsafe and that is the reason why Project Tiger authorities had developed a new methodology for monitoring tigers, co-predators, prey and habitat, SBR sources said. The last census was conducted in the Sunderbans in 2001, which had put the tiger population at 274, but since it emerged as a disputed figure after the ISI software analysis, the next one in 2006 was stalled.

The Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) which was asked by the West Bengal government to develop a software programme to process field data on tiger pugmarks, had claimed in July, 2006 that there were only 75 tigers in the delta, a World Heritage site.

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