Bhubaneswar, March 3 (IANS) The Orissa wildlife department is awaiting funds and security clearance to begin the tiger census this month, with figures varying widely on how many of the big cats the state really has.
Although the exact date has not yet been finalised, officials of the state wildlife department said they are preparing to start the exercise any time this month. The last census by the Wildlife Institute of India put the Orissa tiger population at under 60, though the state government claims the figure is higher.
‘We have already provided the first round of training to over 30 officials. Two senior officials of the state wildlife department have also received training in Delhi,’ P.N. Padhi, the principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), told IANS.
‘We are waiting for funds from the National Tiger Conservation Authority to launch the exercise. Besides, we are also waiting for a security clearance from the home department as counting will be done across the state’s forests, including some areas infested by Maoists,’ he said.
According to him, the central government has heeded the demand by the state government to re-introduce the traditional pugmark method for fresh enumeration of tigers in view of controversy over the camera trap procedure adopted in 2007.
The camera trap method had pegged the tiger population in the state at 45 in 2007. The figure was, however, strongly disputed by the state government, which claimed to have housed 191 tigers, as per its own count made by the pugmark method.
The camera trap method was also questioned by many wildlife experts who said it only took into account a small area to make an assessment of the tiger population in the entire state.
‘We are happy that the central government has decided to adopt the camera trap method along with the conventional procedure – pugmark – for the fresh enumeration of tigers,’ Padhi said.
He also disclosed that for the first time, the predator-prey ratio would be taken into account while counting the number of big cats.
The last census, conducted in 2007-08, estimated the tiger population in India to be 1,411 – half the number in the 2002 census. It showed that Orissa had fewer than 60 tigers and the Simlipal National Park in the district of Mayurbhanj – one of the first project tiger reserves in the country – was home to only 20.
The state government, however, conducted a census of its own in early 2009 using the pugmark method and claimed that there were 60 tigers in Simlipal.
-Indo-Asian News Service