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Pugmark census was more voodoo than science


The current census is likely to show a slight increase in tiger numbers. Do you agree?
I see no reasons for guessing at such an overall increase, but tiger populations do fluctuate locally. However, I would expect something of that sort to emerge for other reasons.

You have long been a critic of pugmark censuses. Any changes you would like to see in the current methodology?

Yes, I was a severe critic of the earlier pugmark 'census' which was more voodoo than science. But I have also tried to suggest improvements to the "sampling based" estimation methodology followed in 2006. This method takes into account direct observation by field staff, information from camera traps and GPS trails, remote sensing data on the terrain, DNA sampling of tiger scat as well as pugmark analysis to arrive at numbers. This round of the national tiger estimation has followed the same procedure as the last one done in 2006. However, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), WII and other agencies have become more receptive to my technical suggestions in the last two years, and have agreed on paper that phase IV of the National Tiger Estimation will follow a more robust protocol - the key differences being a focus on camera trap monitoring of "source populations", monitoring them annually instead of once every 4-5 years, at much higher intensity (500 trap nights/100 sq km) and at larger spatial scales (at least 500 sq km if not more) etc. So I do not worry too much about numbers that will come out at the end of March and will work towards further improvements in the census methods.

Your name is linked with the success of tiger reserves in south India. Can their successes be repeated elsewhere?

The credit for these relative successes goes to the forest department in Karnataka as well as to aggressive local NGO advocacy partner groups that I advise. My role has been to generate knowledge and provide sensible advice. The WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) tiger conservation model combines passionate civil society advocacy and sound science. Similar approaches could work in many parts of south India, Maharashtra, Assam, Bengal . . . wherever there can be a potential local conservation leadership primarily drawn from the middle class youth.

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