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Getting the numbers right

The Pioneer
New Delhi
13 Feb 2018

Preserving the tiger is contingent upon knowing accurately how many there are

The Wildlife Institute of India`s renewed focus to re-evaluate its aims and methodology which will reflect in its capture of data on the number of tigers in the country for Census 2018 is a vital effort in India`s efforts to protect the tiger. The move will go a long way to address the apparent anomalies, especially due to human error, that were present in earlier models of estimating the presence of the big cat in the country. Indeed, the manual procedure was so obsolete that India was at the receiving end of the ire of the international community when it came to policy-making. It was not only tedious, but questions were also raised on the veracity of the numbers churned out by customs officials which many believe resulted in a flawed tiger census.

Traditionally, the pugmark methodology, which identifies every tiger from its paw-prints, has been the most popular way of counting tigers but it was ultimately discarded as having no statistical integrity and was found to be lacking in accuracy. With the advancement of technology, cameras became the new tool for national tiger numbers estimates. But this system too received its share of criticism. Not only did it involve an army of workers to collect data, which cost the Indian taxpayer considerably, but it was actually humanly impossible to keep track of each and every location where the tiger would make its presence felt — there was no guarantee that the tiger would make its presence felt in the camera`s range. The present revamp is aimed at rectifying the existing anomalies and ensuring anecdotal evidence gives way to empiricism if we are serious about saving the tiger. An app-based system will result in better coordination among forest officials, expand coverage, avoid double counting and speed up the process as there will be real-time monitoring of data of not just the presence of tigers but also of the number of tigers who have died or been poached. Importantly, a special template is to be put in place for the north-eastern States, which are known for having a unique cluster different from the rest of the country. Well begun is half done, as they say, but implementation of the new methodology will be the key.

That neighbouring countries such as Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh have committed themselves to help India in its efforts to conserve the tiger exemplifies the tremendous attention the black striped big cast receives at the international level. There can be no disputing the fact that tigers are a rare species the word over and India is the world`s stronghold for tigers. Tigers deserve safe natural habitats and more forest cover is a must to enable that.

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