New Delhi: Here’s some good news for India. The tiger population in the country has risen to 1706 compared to 1411 in 2006, that includes the big cats of Sundarbans, the latest Tiger Census said on Monday.

Thanks to the sustained conservation efforts which marked a 12 per cent increase in big cats’ population.

Released the All India Tiger Estimation Exercise for 2010, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, said that "the mid-point range" of tigers in the country is 1706.

The previous census in 2006 did not cover Sundarbans.

"...That is why I am comparing 2006 and 2010.... When you compare the like with the like, 1411 in 2006 increases to 1636 in 2010. But if you include 70 estimated population in Sundarban, the total estimated population--there is a lower limit and there is an upper limit--the mid-point range is 1706 tigers," the Minister said.

Ramesh said when the Sundarban figure is excluded, the total estimated tiger population figure stands at 1636.

"This figure at 1636 is a 12 per cent increase of 1411 and is welcome news," Ramesh said.

Admitting that there have been higher than normal tiger mortality figures in 2009 and 2010, he said, "Tiger mortality is headlines. But when it comes to tiger fertility nobody bothers about it.”
"And remember, this camera trap method has captured 615 photographs of tigers which are more than one-and-a-half years old," Ramesh said.

Good results in Naxal areas

"The most positive news has been reported from Naxal-affected Nagarjuna Sagar Tiger Reserve in Andhra Pradesh. We have estimated the number of tigers there to be 60," the Minister said.

He also said there is positive news from other Naxal-affected reserves including Indravati (Chattisgarh), Simlipal (Orissa), Valmiki (Bihar), Palamau (Jharkhand).

The 2006 Census had shown a sharp fall in the number of tigers in ‘protected areas’ - reserves, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries - in 19 states across the country.

Earlier, addressing the gathering, Ramesh said, "Close to 30 per cent of the estimated tiger population is outside the 39 tiger reserves...We spend all our time and energy on the 39 tiger reserves. We don't yet have a complete strategy to deal with that."

Later, talking to reporters, Ramesh said the Terai belt between the Himalayan foothills and the Indo-Gangetic Plain of the Ganga, Brahmaputra and their tributaries and South India have shown very good results last year in tiger conservation.

He, however, said the numbers in northeast and Central India are worrisome.

"The tiger occupancy in northern Andhra Pradesh and Central India has gone down. Maharashtra has done well. Today, the single largest concentration of tigers in the world you will find in the triangle of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka," he said.

He said some tiger reserves like Corbett (Uttarakhand) and Ranthambore (Rajasthan) have reached the top end of their capacity for tigers.

Use of cameras, DNA analysis

Do you know how these ferocious and elusive wild cats are counted?

The census, which was the most comprehensive and scientifically conducted exercise so far, used cameras installed at strategic points like water bodies in forests, as also in respective territories of big cats.

Computers were used to analyse and collate the data.

The whole estimation process was conducted in three phases over one year between December 2009 and December 2010 and it involved more than 4.7 lakh forest officials, wildlife activists and volunteers.

Phase one of the Rs 9.1 crore-tiger estimation project included collection of field data at beat-level by trained personnel using a "standardised protocol".

More than 45,000 sq km forest area of the country, including 39 designated tiger reserves, was divided in 29,772 beats or primary patrolling units.

According to the ministry, the officials walked a total distance of 6,25,000 km for data collection.

The second phase of the estimation process involved analysing tiger habitat status by using satellite data.

In the third phase, hi-tech cameras were installed at strategic points like water bodies in the forests to collect information about the presence of the wild cats.

Through the camera trapping method, individual tigers were identified from photographs based on their unique stripe patterns and this information was analysed using "a well
established scientific framework".

Camera trapping was carried out by teams of wildlife biologists and local forest personnel and 880 camera traps were used covering an area of 10,500 sq km resulting in trapping 550 individual tigers during the whole process.

Satellite telemetry to track beasts

Satellite telemetry was used to track the beasts which were previously tagged with radio transmitters.

Among the other techniques involved in the counting process were DNA analysis, biometric data analysis, digital pug-mark prey base indicators, etc.

"The DNA approach was especially useful for estimating tiger numbers in locations where setting up cameras is very difficult and their numbers are known to be very small," said Dr Jhala.

In this method, DNA samples are taken from tiger scat and then analysed in a laboratory -- which gives authentic information whether the samples belong to different tigers or are of the same animal.

In difficult areas like the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve in West Bengal, satellite telemetry and sign surveys were used to estimate the tiger population.