| Aaranyak members collect tiger scat samples from Namdapha. Telegraph picture |
Guwahati, Feb. 26: The National Tiger Conservation Authority is carrying out a comprehensive genetic monitoring programme at Namdapha Tiger Reserve to confirm the presence of tigers in the easternmost tiger reserve of the country.
This exercise in being carried out at Namdapha for the first time and the information collected through this process will be crucial for implementing future conservation plans.
Three tigers are believed to be in the 1,985 square km reserve. The presence of two tigers was confirmed after DNA analysis from tiger scat (faecal matter) and the third big cat was spotted through a camera trap last year.
“This is the first time that comprehensive genetic monitoring is being done as we are collecting the scat on our own. The area covered this time is also more. Last year, the Namdapha forest authorities handed over the samples, which after analysis revealed the presence of minimum two tigers,” Udayan Borthakur, head of the wildlife genetics programme at Aaranyak who is doing the genetic monitoring, told The Telegraph. The National Tiger Conservation Authority has made genetic monitoring mandatory for low-density tiger reserves because camera trapping tends to miss individuals in low-density areas.
The NTCA has entrusted Aaranyak, which has carried out genetic monitoring in other reserves, with the task in Namdapha too. Scats have already been collected for analysis and the results will be known in 45 days.
Borthakur, who has carried out genetic monitoring in different tiger reserves, said one of the many advantages of genetic monitoring for tigers is that in the long run, it needs less money, time and manpower.
“The need of skilled personnel as required for field work during camera trapping is not a factor for sample collection field work for genetic monitoring. This allows obtaining samples from a larger area, which is especially advantageous for larger protected areas with low tiger population density,” he said.
“Unlike camera trapping where costly camera traps can be damaged by wildlife or stolen from field sites, there is no such drawback in genetic monitoring,” he said.
In fact, large numbers of camera traps have been lost in Manas and Namdapha as they were taken away by miscreants. DNA-based techniques have the added advantage of extracting information about the population, such as genetic diversity, extent of inbreeding and relatedness among individuals.
“This information is crucial from the point of view of population management and cannot possibly be evaluated through photographic methods,” he said.
“One disadvantage is that the age of the tigers cannot be determined with the present technology used for genetic monitoring,” Borthakur added.
But the NTCA appraisal of Namdapha reserve has showed it in poor light as far as the presence of tigers is considered.
“Anecdotal information from old forest staff and members from the local communities suggest that as recently as 20 years ago, Namdapha supported a healthy population of tigers, elephants and other large mammals. But over the years, there has been a sharp decline in wildlife in Namdapha. It is generally accepted that Namdapha has very few, if any resident tigers. However, a recent camera trapping exercise has revealed the presence of a tiger,” the report said.