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DNA study of Manas tigers

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  • Published 22.03.11

Guwahati, March 21: The success of genetic assessment of tigers at Buxa tiger reserve in north Bengal has inspired the authorities to begin a similar endeavour at Manas.

“Our work in Buxa has received wide acclaim and we have started the assessment at Manas,” Udayan Borthakur, the head of wildlife, genetics division, of Aaranyak, said.

The authorities at Buxa tiger reserve had asked Aaranyak, a wildlife NGO of Assam, which has its own wildlife genetics laboratory, to carry out genetic assessment of the tiger population.

There are at present 15 tigers in Buxa, three male and nine female. The gender of the three remaining ones could not be identified following the methodology used for the study.

The Buxa experiment was mentioned in Stripes — a bi-monthly outreach journal of National Tiger Conservation Authority.

Borthakur said stringent laboratory conditions were maintained to assess and minimise errors associated with genetic identification of individuals.

“The use of DNA analysis from scats at times is useful to get the minimum estimate of the tiger population,” said Rajesh Gopal, a member secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority.

With a dwindling global population, an estimate of the minimum number of tigers has always been a source of curiosity to wildlife researchers and to managers of protected areas.

“Our study showed that DNA-based techniques of identification of tigers may be considered a practical and low cost option to estimate their population and the long-term monitoring of this species in the protected areas of the country,” Borthakur said.

He said the DNA-based study was important in low-density tiger areas.

“The best thing is that faecal samples are easy to collect and not much cost and logistics are required. Unlike camera trapping where huge costs are involved and lot of logistics are involved, this experiment is cheaper,” he said.

The Manas tiger reserve authorities had requested Aaranyak to carry out the genetic assessment of tigers.

“Faecal samples have been collected from Bansbari and part of Panbari range,” Borthakur said, adding that the samples were collected by the tiger reserve authorities and handed to them.

Gopal said as genetic information is useful for wildlife forensics, besides population estimation, the National Tiger Conservation Authority is currently talking to experts in the field to standardise a uniform protocol for field data collection and analysis.

Manas has a tiger population ranging from 15 to 18.