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Tiger hint in Dibang sanctuary

New Delhi, Jan. 12: Wildlife biologists have captured an image of a tiger and documented pug marks and scat samples from a rugged mountain zone of Arunachal Pradesh that, they say, is the first evidence of 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, shows what seems to be an adult tiger roaming in the high-altitude Dibang wildlife 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 of presence of tigers by members of Idu Mishmi community.

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

“The local communities have reported tigers in the area for decades,” Govindan Veeraswami Gopi, a WII scientist involved in the search, told The Telegraph. “The discovery of the tiger cubs in 2012 was another hint of presence of tigers in the area.”

But the northern part of the Dibang wildlife sanctuary borders China and, Gopi said, there was a possibility that any tiger there would be member of another sub-species called Northern Indo-Chinese tigers.

He, however, said genetic analysis of blood samples from the two tiger cubs have shown that they are indeed Royal Bengal tigers and not the northern Indo-Chinese tigers.

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

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

The Idu Mishmi community appears to have long coexisted with tigers. “They regard the tiger as big brother,” Gopi said, adding that the tigers in Dibang wildlife sanctuary do not face any threat from local communities.

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