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First animal census in Buxa

Alipurduar, July 11: The forest department will for the first time count the number of animals in the Buxa Tiger Reserve, except the big cats, in the coming winter and find out if the sanctuary has a balanced food chain.

R.P. Saini, the field director of the reserve, said the survey would be conducted with the help of experts at the Calcutta-headquartered Zoological Survey of India.

“The reserve has mammals, amphibians, reptiles, insects and birds. All kinds of animals have a role in maintaining the ecological balance of a forest. We will conduct a census in Buxa for the first time in the coming winter to find out the number of animals other than tigers. We have already contacted the Zoological Survey of India to train the forest staff in identifying certain animals,” he said.

Saini said direct sighting would be used to conduct the census. “Once all animals are counted, we will know the exact prey base of the tiger,” he added.

The Buxa authorities claim that there are 15 to 20 tigers in the reserve. Besides, elephants, leopards, bison and deer are also spotted in the forest. Hornbills and lesser adjutant storks are some of the birds, which have made Buxa their home.

Animesh Bose, the programme co-ordinator of the Himalayan Nature and Adventure and Foundation, said Buxa hadn’t had a steady tiger population.

“Tiger may be at the top of the eco-pyramid. But big herbivores, amphibians, reptiles, insects and birds are also a very important part of the eco system. If the survey finds out that there are not enough animals for the tigers to prey on, it means the popultion of the big cat will come down further,” said Bose. A major threat to a proper food chain in Buxa is the trespassing of forest villagers to graze domesticated cattle.

“If the herbivores can’t survive without grassland, it will have an adverse impact on the very existence of the tiger also. So, the foresters have to develop enough grasslands for the herbivores like deer and bison,” said Bose.

A forest officer pointed out that it was not the food chain alone that affected the growth of tiger population.“Tigers are very sensitive. The partners have to stay together for one week and if the tigers don’t find a space, they wouldn’t mate. So, it’s also imperative that there is no pressure on the forest to ensure the breeding of tigers,” he said.