Lifestyle & Belief

(Update) India Tiger Census: To Believe or Not Believe

Most of the conservation community is cheering new census numbers that show a 20% increase in the number of tigers living in India's jungles. But should we really believe the hype? Veteran wildlife writer (and all around awesome scribe) Jay Mazoomdaar argues NO in this week's Open Magazine.

The subhead says it all:

With an ad hoc timeline and faulty equipment, is this hyped-up census a waste of time, money and trust? And how come the World Bank is back to dominate India’s tiger agenda within three years of a PMO snub?

Here's the answer in a nutshell (all from Jay's article):

» Wildlife Institute of India used about 500 camera-traps for the second all-India estimation. Several of their officials accepted that about 300 of those camera-traps malfunctioned. The official stand remains that the premier institute got the faulty sets replaced and reinstalled. Officials also claim this caused a procedural delay of about two months.

However, I have more reasons to be optimistic. In the first national census during 2006-07, bizarre examples of ill-trained field staff unwittingly under-reporting tigers comfortably outweighed any manipulation to jack up the numbers. For example, field staff in Uttarakhand’s Ramnagar forest division went for pugmark identification and failed to report each individual tiger track in 2007. Eventually not more than half a dozen tigers were estimated in the entire division. This year, camera traps have been used here by a team of World Wildlife Fund and, say reliable sources, as many as 23 tigers have been estimated. This is just one example of a neat 400 per cent jump.

But why does a census operation that cost Rs 13 crore four years ago (nobody has pinpointed the cost of the present exercise yet but it could not have come cheaper than the last census) and had four long years to get its act right, end up being so managerially disorganised and scientifically compromised?

» Many expected the second all-India estimation to be a far more intensive exercise in terms of camera-trap intensity or number of camera nights utilised. But WII followed the same routine as in 2007. Blame inadequate manpower, lack of planning and dubious equipment, the exercise never appeared scientifically robust. No extrapolation method can compensate for inadequate or compromised data.