| That sinking feeling
Bhubaneswar, June 5: The worst kept secrets about the feline numbers in Simlipal tiger reserve seems to be out.
If the tiger enumeration through the camera-trap method, which concluded here last week, is to be believed, the 2,750sqkm sanctuary in Mayurbhanj district of Orissa may not have more than 30 tigers, far less than the number of 101 put out by the reserve authorities in 2004.
Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII), which is doing a habitat analysis of all the tiger reserves in the country since January 2006 as a response to the Sariska tragedy, found the presence of only six tigers in the southern part of the park’s 845sqkm core area, said to be the most tiger-dense area.
WII is doing the all-India estimation of tigers, large carnivores, ungulates and their habitat status. The team from WII, which last year undertook the first round of survey in the park, had put the number at 11 after they asked the forest guards how many tigers they saw and finally extrapolated the data on a GIS map of the tiger reserve.
In the second part, the WII team placed 60 camera traps in 120sqkm area of Upper Barkamuda range in the core area during the months of March, April and May this year.
This part of the core area is believed to contain 50 per cent of the total number of tigers — 80 felines — in the area.
With the best preserved tiger habitat reporting low numbers, conservationists are now raising questions about the wild tigers in Simlipal.
Though the WII team of researchers has sampled only a fraction of the whole park, the presence of only six individual tigers in the tiger-dense area of the reserve seems to have shocked the conservationists and officials alike.
“It’s a very small number. It has vindicated our claim that tigers are vanishing from Simlipal like they are doing in the rest of the country. I guess the total number of tigers in Simlipal would be no more than 30, which is hardly a number that can sustain itself,” said Biswajit Mohanty of Wildlife Society of Orissa.
Well-known conservationist and editor of Sanctuary Asia magazine Bittu Sehgal was more caustic.
“The tiger numbers in Simlipal was always fiction. All along the wildlife officials have given everyone wrong idea about the tiger numbers,” he said.
A well-placed source in the wildlife department said if the WII team does the camera-trapping in other less dense parts of the core area —said to be containing 80 of the 101 tigers — then the probability of getting tiger images would surely come down drastically.
Debabrata Swain, director of Simlipal tiger reserve, said the WII team could have captured the image of more tigers in the camera traps, had it been done in monsoon. “The tigers in Simlipal are camera shy,” said Swain.