India’s Tiger Census is widely regarded as the World’s largest wildlife survey. Started in 2006, it had given an estimate of 1411 tigers left in the country. Widespread awareness programmes, efforts by the governments and relentless work of forest officials have helped the population of India’s national animal increase by noticeable numbers.
The 2010 Tiger census recorded 1706 tigers in the country. 2014 census data showed the population at 2226.
The 2018 tiger census has already begun. This time the Ministry of the environment and National Tiger Conservation Authority are leaving nothing to chances and human error. The 2018 census, the results of which will be finalised in 2019, will be the biggest, widest and most organised survey so far.
As compared to the 2014 census, which saw 9,700 camera traps, the 2018 census will involve around 15,000 camera traps. 400,000 square metres of forest area will be scanned, involving more than a year’s efforts of over 40,000 forest guards and independent biologists providing assistance. It involves 18 states of India. The costs for the exercise has been estimated at 10.22 crores. The northeastern states, which had not seen proper coverage in the past are to scanned vigorously this time.
Tiger census is usually done in two phases. In the first phase, forest officials collect raw data on the basis of pugmarks, pellets and sightings. The second phase involves biologists and camera traps. After that data from the two phases are correlated in a customised software and the final estimate is calculated on the basis of individual stripes.
Under the Modi government’s push for Digital India, this census will see forest officials using an indigenously developed Android App M-STRiPES (monitoring system for tigers-intensive protection and ecological status) developed by the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. The use of the mobile app minimises and in most cases eliminates human error. In earlier surveys, the forest official used paper formats to record parameters and data which lead to errors and confusion.
The M-STRiPES app automatically records the track log of surveys and routes taken by forest officials in collecting the first sample. It is provided to the forest staff free and makes data recording easier and highly efficient.When biologists are involved in the phase 2 sampling, the app automatically records data on animal sightings with geotagged photographs. It increases the intensity, coverage and accuracy of sampling phenomenally higher.
Y V Jhala, a scientist from the Wildlife Institute of India has stated that the officials will be able to improve the accuracy of the exercise with this digitisation. A new area that would be covered would be Northeast. So far, in the previous three surveys, it has been poorly sampled.
There have been other large-scale wildlife surveys in the world. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority had in 2016 carried out a vast aerial offshore survey on the coast near New York state. But the estimated area scanned was only 43,000 square kilometres.
The Royal Society For Promotion of Birds (RSPB) in the UK organises an annual wildlife survey called the Big Garden Birdwatch, which involves volunteers and photographers. But this vast event is not entirely digitalised and the area it spans is not even a fraction of the area that India’s Tiger census has to cover.
With vast resources and dedicated, trained officials working for over a year, the 2018 tiger census is expected to give accurate and detailed results of tiger population in the country. Government is hopeful that we will see a significant rise in the number of the majestic beasts roaming in our forests.