A new tool for monitoring tigers

Representative image. (PTI Photo)

Thirteen Tiger Range Countries (TRCs) met in St Petersburg, Russia in 2010 for an international tiger conservation forum and expressed concern over the shrinking tiger population in the wild.

Hunting of wild ungulates, degradation of habitats and corridors, and poaching of tigers for skin and body parts are the main reasons for this decline.

A total 70 per cent of wild tigers found in TRCs belong to India.

All India Tiger Estimation, which has been conducted four times since 2006, estimated in 2018 that there is a 30 per cent increase in tiger numbers in India, compared to the 2014 statistics.

Out of 2,967 tigers, 2,461 have been captured on camera, dismissing all speculations of experts that our estimation methodology does not pass statistical tests. The area occupied by tigers has increased from 3,78,118 sq km in 2014 to 3,81,400 sq km in 2018.

However, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and northeastern states have registered a decline in tiger numbers because swathes of forests are without any prey base.

The other highlight of 2018 estimation is that 20 per cent of tiger reserves are threatened by invasive species (like lantana) and pilgrimage that occupies the reserves. The core of tiger reserves are inviolate areas under the law. But the provisions are not enforced efficiently.

Karnataka, the leader in tigers since 2010, has lost its first rank by a narrow margin to Madhya Pradesh in the latest estimation. Although the state registered an increase from 406 in 2014 to 524 in 2018, Madhya Pradesh, which was a distant third, has taken the number from 308 to 526 in the same period. Uttarakhand has also improved its tally from 346 to 442.

Reports also indicate that the extent of forests under tiger occupancy in Central India has increased from 40,185 sq km in 2014 to 47,717 sq km in 2018, whereas in Western Ghats it has decreased from 27,824 sq km to 27,297 sq km.

In other words the tiger forests in Western Ghats have shrunk in the last four years. However, we see from older reports that the forests under tiger occupancy in Karnataka have remained stagnant.

New approach

A conservation tool, Conservation Assured Tiger Standards (CA|TS), is in place to identify critical sites for securing tigers outside tiger reserves. Both Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand have initiated action of securing tigers in territorial divisions and increased the areas under tiger occupancy.

Karnataka has not yet registered ‘critical territorial divisions’ for CA|TS accreditation, and that’s how the tiger area remains stagnant.

TRCs have committed to launch tiger-recovery programme in areas where tiger occupancy has been consistently diminishing.

Any site proposed as one ‘conserving tigers’ can be tested with reference to a set of criteria. Consider these seven pillars: Importance and status of site, management issues, role of communities, tourism, protection, habitat management and tiger population.

There are elements and criteria to be examined against each pillar. The CA|TS process in each country is run through the National Committee. The chairman of our National Committee is member secretary National Tiger Conservation Authority.

CA|TS assessments by Reviewer are first examined by National Committee and then peer-reviewed by international executive committee and approved by CA|TS council. The process is nationally owned and driven.

Rapidly degrading habitat and unpredictable challenges are calibrated in a single platform with the digital conservation tool CA|TS, launched in tiger conservation sites across six TRCs: Bhutan, China, India, Malaysia, Nepal and Russia.

The software offers an opportunity for an individual or a network of sites to demonstrate their commitment and success in protecting tigers.

It helps in identifying current issues and challenges ahead for calibrating information and optimising resources for better solution. It visualises and communicates impacts of various interventions for effective management of the site.

It has necessary elements to be adapted and expanded beyond tigers, for other threatened habitat and species globally.

It helps central and state governments to streamline their resources and funding, and NGOs and global conservation investment agencies like United Nations Development Programme and World Bank to track their projects and minimise duplication of efforts and risks of double funding.

At present, the manual data management and record upkeep is a daunting task. It requires hours of work, digging through documents and collating insights from respective staff.

The software addresses the issue and ushers transparency, accountability, good governance and builds confidence in both investors and users for tracking investments and quantifying conservation impacts. It can also calibrate conservation outcome through evidence-based process.

Presently, state forest departments use a number of monitoring tools while patrolling the forests. These are spatial monitoring and reporting tool, management information system technology, fire data management tool, and management effectiveness tracking tool along with the intelligence gathered.

All these may be integrated into the new software.

 

(The author is Former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Head of Forest Force, Karnataka)

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