December 20, 2005

India to count tigers with computers

By Krittivas Mukherjee

KOLKATA, India (Reuters) - India will start counting tigers
next month in the world's largest habitat for the big cats
using specially-designed computer programmes to avoid
duplication in recording pugmarks, officials said on Tuesday.

The government was criticised by conservationists after
reports in March said the entire tiger population at the
Sariska tiger reserve, one of the most high profile, had been
killed by poachers and that numbers across the country had

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh formed a special tiger
taskforce to suggest ways of saving the big cats.

Indian authorities looking after the Sunderbans forest --
in eastern India and neighbouring Bangladesh -- are set to
carry out their first census of the tigers since the uproar.

"For the first time, with the use of a specially-designed
computer programme, we will try to ensure there is no
duplication in the counting of pugmarks," Sunderbans chief
conservator Atanu Raha said, adding officials would also be
using satellite-linked radio collars.

The Sunderbans include 10,000 sq km (3,860 sq mile) of
mangrove marshlands off the coast of the Bay of Bengal, 100 km
(60 miles) south of Kolkata.

The last census in 2003 estimated the tiger population was
between 260 and 280 in the Indian part of the Sunderbans, home
also to hundreds of salt water crocodiles and rare river

Raha said the first phase of the latest census would be
from January 5-10, adding the forest would be divided into 60

Animal rights activists say tiger numbers in sanctuaries
are lower than projected by authorities.

"The pugmark methodology is just fooling people," Valmik
Thapar, a leading tiger conservationist, said calling for use
of cameras.

"They cannot be more than 100 tigers in the Sunderbans and
we are seeing tiger numbers are going down in almost all the
sanctuaries," he told Reuters from New Delhi.

A century ago there were about 40,000 tigers in India but
now officials estimate there are about 3,700.

Some environment groups say there are less than 2000. Trade
in tigers is illegal but poachers still operate with impunity
because a single animal can fetch up to $50,000 on the black