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Buxa tigers show up in census

Alipurduar, Jan. 17: Foresters have gathered conclusive evidence to prove the presence of the big cats in the Buxa Tiger Reserve (BTR).

The report of a tiger census conducted in the reserve in December is out and initial findings, based mainly on pug marks, put the number of big cats between 24 and 27.

A census in 2004 based almost entirely on pug marks had put the approximate figure at 27.

“This is not the final figure,” said L.G. Lepcha, the field director of the BTR. “We have sent 41 scat samples to S.P. Goyel, a senior scientist at the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehra Dun. DNA analysis of the scats will be used to establish the identity of individual tigers.” Lepcha added that some tigers might have strayed into Bhutan at the time of the census.

S.S. Bist, the chief wildlife warden of Bengal, submitted the report to the additional chief secretary of the state forest department, Kalyani Choudhury, today.

During the census, foresters collected 248 pug marks and 41 scats and identified three kills (preys hunted down by tigers) and 11 scratch marks on tree trunks. One tiger was spotted at the Panbari II compartment of the reserve on December 24.

Lepcha said more evidence could come up soon. “The wildlife institute has set camera traps in 27 sensitive points in the BTR to take photographs of tigers. The state wildlife wing, too, has positioned 10 cameras in different locations. A clear picture of the tiger population should emerge by March 31,” he said.

In the past, there has been a lot of controversy over the actual number of tigers in the reserve with some people saying there were none. The chief wildlife warden of Bengal took the initiative to conduct the census mainly to come up with a rebuttal of these claims. Today, the field director toed the same line.

“Number is not the factor: we are happy to have proved beyond doubt that there are tigers in BTR,” Lepcha said.

The census this time was mounted on a massive scale. Thirty-five volunteers from 12 NGOs joined foresters and all of them were divided in 109 teams with four members each. After an intense training programme that included both theoretical and practical lessons, the teams went out into the reserve to collect scats and pug marks and report kills and scratch marks from December 11-15.

The whole operation was overseen by four experts from the Zoological Survey of India, National Tiger Conservation Authority, WWF-India and the state wildlife board.

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