How tigers are counted in Andhra's Srisailam reserve

TNM travelled to Andhra Pradesh’s Nagarjunasagar Srisailam Tiger Reserve to learn about the tiger census process and understand how the massive nation-wide exercise is carried out.
A representative image of a tiger
A representative image of a tiger
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A massive drive to estimate the number of tigers in the country is presently underway. Called the All India Tiger Estimation, the herculean process is carried out by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) once every four years in coordination with state forest departments. While the 2006 census had estimated the number of tigers in the country to be only 1,411, by 2018 the number had grown to 2,967. Today, 16 years later, the estimated number of tigers is expected to cross 3,000. The estimation is important to track the tiger population and take timely remedial action in case of a decline in numbers.

TNM travelled to Andhra Pradesh’s Nagarjunasagar Srisailam Tiger Reserve (NSTR), India’s largest tiger reserve, to witness the estimation process. Spread over 3,700 sq km, NSTR is located in the Nallamala range in the southern part of the Eastern Ghats. The tiger estimation survey takes several months, with a large number of personnel deployed to carry out various tasks.

Speaking to TNM, Vignesh Appavu G, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Markapur, explained, “With respect to the country-wide tiger estimation survey, NSTR employs 1,810 camera traps at 905 points. The exercise has been happening for the last three to five months, with roughly 1,000 personnel taking part in it.” The camera traps set up inside the forests help capture images of animals.

Until a few years ago, the estimation process was not digitised, meaning the data was collected using pen and paper. “Now we have to do everything in an app. Capacity building was the major challenge and we have overcome it now. Camera trapping is done in around 39% of the total area in the reserve. There are a few areas along the Krishna river that are inaccessible, because of steep terrain, slopes and cliffs. We can’t reach the areas that only animals can access,” the DFO said.

Out of the thousands of images captured using the camera traps, the images of tigers are segregated and analysed by the biologists at the tiger reserve. The data is forwarded to the NTCA, where it is then collated and further analysed before the final results of the national level estimation are revealed.

The final number published by the NTCA after the estimation process is the minimum number of tigers. The number is arrived at by analysing each tiger’s stripe patterns. This process and other details of the estimation survey are explained in detail in the video ground report.

Forest officials are confident that the survey will reveal a higher number of tigers than before and say that the numbers will surely rise in the future. “There can’t be an iota of doubt that the numbers will increase and no way tigers are going to be extinct,” said DFO Vignesh.

Watch the ground report: 

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