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Royal Bengal in Arunachal

- Image of tiger & Pugmarks in Dibang area
The first image of a tiger taken by an automatic infrared camera in the Dibang wildlife sanctuary. Credit: Wildlife Institute of India

New Delhi, Jan. 12: Wildlife biologists have captured an image of a tiger and documented pugmarks and scat samples from a rugged mountain zone of Arunachal Pradesh that they say is the first evidence for tigers living in the Dibang wildlife sanctuary.

The image, based on a remotely operated automatic infrared camera mounted on a tree near a riverbed and captured around 3am on January 2 this year, shows what seems to be an adult tiger roaming in the high-altitude sanctuary.

Scientists from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, with support from the National Tiger Conservation Authority and the Arunachal Pradesh government have been combing the sanctuary since December, trying to validate long-standing claims about tigers by members of the local Idu Mishmi community.

The trigger for the systematic search was the rescue of two tiger cubs found trapped in a dried well in December 2012 in a place called Angrim valley, lying outside the sanctuary. The cubs are now in the Itanagar zoo.

“The local communities have reported tigers in the area for decades,” Govindan Veeraswami Gopi, a WII scientist involved in the search, said. “The discovery of the cubs was another hint.”

But it wasn’t clear whether these cubs were Royal Bengal tigers. The northern part of the Dibang sanctuary borders China, and Gopi said there was a possibility that any tigers there would be members of another subspecies called the northern Indo-Chinese tigers.

However, he said, genetic analysis of blood samples from the two cubs had shown that they were indeed Royal Bengal tigers and not the other subspecies.

India’s tiger census in 2010 had documented 1,706 big cats scattered across 17 states with ranges. Arunachal has documented tigers in the Namdapha and Pakke reserves, but both are relatively low-altitude Himalayan forests.

The image of the tiger in Dibang was captured at a terrain altitude of 1,765 metres above sea level. “But we’ve also got scat samples from about 2,065 metres,” Gopi said. In Bhutan, royal Bengal tigers have been documented at 4,100 metres.

The Idu Mishmi community appears to have long co-existed with tigers. “They regard the tiger as big brother,” Gopi, the WII scientist said, adding that the tigers in Dibang did not face any threat from locals.

The WII team had placed nine automatic infrared cameras at strategic locations in the sanctuary. The wildlife biologists, along with members of the local community, walked nearly 120km, collecting 11 samples of tiger scat and documenting nine tiger pugmarks. The scat samples have been sent to WII for studies that will help clarify the diet of the tigers in the sanctuary.