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Tiger census: volunteers write in from the US (Oct)


Pune Mirror, 25th October, 2013

Niranjan. Kaggere

Bangalore - Much like the numbers of the big cat, volunteers for the Karnataka forest department’s tiger census had drastically fallen. The exercise of counting tigers in the wild is carried out once in four years, but the department’s call for volunteers to help with the process, unlike the previous occasions, had attracted few enthusiasts.

Mirror had reported how the department’s policy decision to ban cameras and camera-enabled phones was thought to be the reason behind the fall in numbers (Volunteers for tiger census plummet from 500 to 5, October 20, 2013), but barely four days on, the department has been flooded with volunteer applications. The flood of applications — about 500 of them — has taken the department by surprise since many of them have come from applicants around the globe, some as far away as the US.

“It was not only a surprise, but a bit of a shock for all of us,” said a delighted Gayathriprasad S Prabhu, principle chief conservator of forests (wildlife). “We never expected to get so many volunteers for the programme (in such a short span of time). We thank the media for highlighting the issue. A few from the US have written saying they would take leave and volunteer for the project.” The department will carry out the census from December 16-23 in 3,000 transects across the five tiger reserves of the state.

Prabhu revealed that going by the sheer area to be covered, the department is still short on volunteers. “Even if we deploy two volunteers per transect we will need at least 7,000 volunteers,” Prabhu said. “Since we don’t have that many, we will deploy them only in protected areas.

For first two days, they will have to walk in transect line for two kilometres everyday recording scats, pugmarks and sightings. Subsequently ,for the next two days they will have to identify plants, trees and other flora and document the findings. Later the details will be mapped using satellite imagery.”

Counting other carnivores

For the first time in the country, the department will collect details on co-predators such as leopards and bears. “On the last three days of the census, volunteers will track and identify other carnivores. Each volunteer will be required to walk five kilometres everyday for three days to map other carnivore animals along with tigers.”

Study of leopards, bears

Keeping in mind the rising number of man-animal conflict, especially involving leopards and bears, the department has decided to put radio collars on leopards and bears to track their movements. “The department does not have any data per se on the behaviour of these animals,” Prabhu said.

“But of late we have been witnessing a number of conflicts involving leopards and bears in several districts. To study the behaviour of these animals we have permitted Sanjay Gubbi of Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) to fix GPS collars on six leopards as and when they are caught.

Dr Chittiappa of Bannerghatta Biological Park (BBP) and Dr Nagaraj of Bandipur will help Gubbi with this task. Wildlife SOS authorities at BBP have also granted permission to put one radio collar and two GPS collars on bears.”

The GPS and radio collars can be controlled automatically using wireless equipment and, although they usually emit signals once every two hours they can be tuned to emit signals at intervals of two minutes. Based on the signals forest officials and researchers can alert nearby villagers about a potential threat. The collars have been developed by scientists at the Indian Institute of Science.