Forest dept to launch massive exercise to create big cat database

The Forest Department will soon prepare a database that will list all tigers and leopards — animals found to be especially vulnerable to poaching — in the state. The cataloguing will be done with the help of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).

Though the project is to be implemented in most of the tiger reserves in the country as an anti-poaching measure and to know the exact number of tigers, sources say reserves in the state like Pench and Melghat and those in Uttarakhand are at the forefront of this exercise as seven tigers and 47 leopards have been poached in the two states alone despite strict vigilance and other measures.

Armed with the database, forensic experts from the department and WII will be able to match the genetic material from the skins or bones recovered from a poaching site with the animal listed in the catalogue.

Catching poachers
This will help identify the reserve from which the animal has been killed and aid authorities in narrowing down on the poachers.

“We have not been able to identify the habitats of big cats, because of which we are unable to prevent poaching, and whatever data is gathered is not 100 per cent accurate. Apart from recording the number of animals in the list, we also plan to carry out a survey of the animals’ co-predators, which will help gather information on they prey base,” said a senior forest official from Nagpur division.

The population status survey in the reserves carried out by the Nagpur Forest Department is done through camera trappings and pug mark tracking, which involves identifying an animal by its footprint and secondary evidence as well as by assessing the animal’s droppings in a particular area every four years.

If the database of the animals in 11 tiger reserves that has already been created by the WII, including Ranthambore, Jim Corbett National Park and Kanha, turns out to be successful in meeting the objectives, the exercise will be repeated in the remaining reserves.

“It is feasible to estimate the population of tigers and leopards in 25 sq km of land in a reserve where there is no human interference, but it is necessary to identify the animal,” said Dr D Gujar, in-charge of social forestry, Thane.

Officials at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park last month started an abundance survey project to track down the big cats through camera traps, rosette pattern to identify the spots on the body, and through scat collection.

The park has also started its occupancy and distribution survey in particular areas to know how many times the animals frequent a particular periphery. 

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