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Tiger Census Festival: Big Cat surely did oblige

The long-awaited tiger census report is finally out, causing a lot of excitement and anticipation. The report aimed to determine the health of the tiger population in India, especially after the disasters at Panna and the increasing reports of tiger deaths. While the census shows a 12% increase over last year, with 18 reported deaths in 2011, conservationists are still analyzing the report. India can take credit for the increase in population, especially with the presence of tiger conservation experts like Mr Ramesh. The media and conservationists also had a field day, making many observations both for and against the report. As I am not an expert on this subject, I will refrain from making any observations.

By now, you would have read or seen all the versions of the report on TV channels, blogs, newspapers, Facebook posts, and other sources. Therefore, I do not want to sound repetitive. While we can debate the pros and cons of this report until the next census, the good point is that our beloved national animal was everywhere, which is something to cheer about. It has been a while since our National Animal has received so much attention from the population. Almost everyone was talking about it, whether they were concerned or otherwise. This reinforced the need for tiger conservation and protection of their natural habitat.

It is important to note that the number 1706 is not an absolute number, but an extrapolation of the sample size on which the observations are based. The higher range is 1875, and the lower range is 1571. Here are some of the prominent findings and salient features of this census:

- The estimation shows an increase of 295 over the 2006 census, including data from Sunderbans and Sahyadri Tiger Reserve, which were not part of the earlier census.

- Southern states have performed better than the North. Other regions that have shown an increase are Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, and Assam, while the population is stable in states like Bihar, UP, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Mizoram, and Kerala. Madhya Pradesh, the tiger state, and Andhra are the only two states that have seen a decline in population.

- There is evidence of new areas being populated by tigers, such as Kuno-Palampur and Shivpuri National Park, both in MP.

- There has been a considerable increase in areas occupied by big cats outside national parks, increasing the risk of human-animal conflict. Some of these non-protected areas include Moyar Sigur, Sathyamangalam, Pilibhit, and Ramnagar. Almost 30% of the tiger population, as per the census, is outside 39 reserves in India, which is a reason to push the tiger corridor agenda more aggressively.

- There has been a decline in the area occupied by tigers, reducing from 93600 to 72800 sq km, with an increasing population (as per census) and decreasing habitat. This is a concern.

- This census covered an area of more than 5 lac sq km.

- In the 2010 census, 550 individual tigers were captured and identified through their unique stripe patterns. Based on this data, tiger density in a given area was determined, and the numbers were extrapolated.

- Multiple methods such as camera traps, DNA analysis, scat analysis, and satellite imagery were used for this census, giving some credibility to the data over the previous census.

 

It is still possible to raise doubts about the methods, question the skill sets of those involved, term the sample size as inadequate, blame faulty camera traps, and criticize the timing of sample collection. However, we need to give credit to all those credible souls who genuinely contributed to the cause, even if they are few in number. Tigers understand that this is a journey of clash of interest between humans and animals, where, unfortunately, humans are calling the shots. However, this gracious animal did provide an opportunity for everyone to bask in their moments of glory.

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