Monitoring Tigers in the Twenty-First Century India-Part XI

Monitoring Tigers in the Twenty-First Century India-Part X

-Vinod Rishi

Here is the eleventh and last part of an article published by Shri Vinod Rishi in The Indian Forester. Vol.136:10. Wild Life Special.
Shri Vinod Rishi is IFS – retd. and a Former Additional Director General of Forests (Wildlife), Govt. of India; E-mail: vinodrishi@rediffemail.com

(Contd from last month)

Monitoring Tigers in the Twenty-First Century-Part XI

There has not been any reliable analysis to justify rejection of field methods for estimating the tiger populations. The application of statistical approaches is also not questionable, nor can its use be undervalued in wildlife conservation. But one cannot deny that many of the available models are primarily untried and un-validated research models. The problems with the hypothetical and un-validated research models are evident from the results of the holistic approach applied by the NTCA. Models for use by field officers are yet to be designed, and India does not have a dedicated wildlife management research cadre. Systems Analysis and Ecological Modeling can become a significant component of wildlife management research and its application in wildlife management in India, only if the results are empirically verifiable by the user at a short notice and found to be closer to reality.
The current status of tiger populations is extremely tenuous. Wild tiger populations are faced with the threat of decimation and dying out as geographically segregated genetic isolates. Breeding depressions caused by inbreeding and skewed sex ratios, and the time bound dying out of very small isolated populations will wipe the species out, even if total protection is given to such populations.

The reliability of pugmarks as an index for tiger count has been questioned and answered over the past two decades. The statistical estimation approaches have also been tried out. The refinement and development of the field methods has been a continuous activity over the past decades. Use of cluster analysis with computer software in West Bengal (Roy, Undated); refinement of the field data collection techniques, and monitoring of the tiger populations by mapping tiger habitat occupancy patterns have been tried out and validated in the field conditions (Rishi, 1984, 1997, 2005), tiger census method was also redefined (Singh, 1999). These works have not lost their value because of a paradigm shift by NTCA in monitoring tiger populations.

If we have to approach the application of statistical models with caution, so also we have to exercise discretion and caution in using field methods. Both are subject to human bias. There is science in the field methods, too. The problem lies in the lack of appreciation about when and where to use which approach. We still do not know the true status of tigers in India, nor do we know what methodology to follow in future for monitoring their populations. It is a historical reality that every proponent or supporter of a methodology patronizes a technique or an approach, and expresses greatest confidence in the favored approach. Till date, the firmness of the stands taken by opposite opinion groups regarding mathematical approaches and field methods has been a singular factor that has prevented them from coming together for strengthening the approach for tiger conservation in India. The blind promotion or rejection of any approach will have an effect on the tiger. Therefore, the right way(s) to monitor tiger populations and habitats will be the one(s) that ensure the tiger is benefited from our efforts.

The survival of tiger in India, unfortunately and alarmingly, is pitted in a race against time. We have just about 1,000 tigers in India. Every tiger needs to be watched: numbers cannot be treated as taboo! Reliable monitoring of tigers, their co-predators, prey populations, habitats and their protection are critical for evolving appropriate management strategies for their conservation. We have to change the way we are currently dealing with the remnant tiger populations. A fresh look at both the academic and field approaches is needed.
It is not the academic excellence but the field staff that will save the tiger. The need of the day is to enable the field level manpower with user-friendly methods and techniques that will upgrade their skills in protecting and monitoring wild populations for which they are responsible. There is no harm in trying to REINVENT OR REPAIR THE WHEEL IF THE EXISTING ONE DOES NOT WORK.

    Tiger conservation crisis has been compounded by the inability to precisely estimate and monitor tiger populations in India. The paper presents a historical review of the past approaches and current anomalies, and suggests future possibilities for meaningful evaluation of the status of tiger populations using the best of both the Systems Analysis approaches as well as the user-friendly field methods.
Key words: Tiger population, Estimation and Monitoring, Sampling technique, Pugmark, Census Technique, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).

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