India to Count Tigers with Computers
Author: Krittivas Mukherjee
The government was criticised by conservationists after reports in March said the entire tiger population at the Sariska tiger reserve, one of the most high profile, had been killed by poachers and that numbers across the country had dropped.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh formed a special tiger taskforce to suggest ways of saving the big cats.
Indian authorities looking after the Sunderbans forest -- in eastern India and neighbouring Bangladesh -- are set to carry out their first census of the tigers since the uproar.
"For the first time, with the use of a specially-designed computer programme, we will try to ensure there is no duplication in the counting of pugmarks," Sunderbans chief conservator Atanu Raha said, adding officials would also be using satellite-linked radio collars.
The Sunderbans include 10,000 sq km (3,860 sq mile) of mangrove marshlands off the coast of the Bay of Bengal, 100 km (60 miles) south of Kolkata.
The last census in 2003 estimated the tiger population was between 260 and 280 in the Indian part of the Sunderbans, home also to hundreds of salt water crocodiles and rare river dolphins.
Raha said the first phase of the latest census would be from January 5-10, adding the forest would be divided into 60 zones.
Animal rights activists say tiger numbers in sanctuaries are lower than projected by authorities.
"The pugmark methodology is just fooling people," Valmik Thapar, a leading tiger conservationist, said calling for use of cameras.
"They cannot be more than 100 tigers in the Sunderbans and we are seeing tiger numbers are going down in almost all the sanctuaries," he told Reuters from New Delhi.
A century ago there were about 40,000 tigers in India but now officials estimate there are about 3,700.
Some environment groups say there are less than 2000. Trade in tigers is illegal but poachers still operate with impunity because a single animal can fetch up to $50,000 on the black market.