Debate: Can the New Method to Count Tigers Really Remove Errors?
While scientists claim they have found a new way of counting tigers, there are questions on how effective it is.
The latest estimate of the National Tiger Conservation Authority shows that there are more than 2,000 tigers in the country. In the assessment, the Wildlife Institute has taken into account the presence and identification of tigers, prey base abundance, and other information that could lead to the presence of tigers.
Yet, they have failed to be convincing on the authenticity of their method. Despite their reservations, the forest officers have accepted the estimate. However, they still complain that the estimate does not match with the information they possess. Other critics reject it due to a lack of rigorous scientific scrutiny.
Estimating the Accurate Number of Tigers
An article in The Quint on 7 April says that a group of Indian scientists have developed a new method based on two parameters – the camera trap and the count of tiger tracks. They claim that this method will help to get rid of ‘imperfect detection’ while estimating the number of tigers. I have not gone through the scientific paper on the basis of which the news item is covered. If the article in The Quint is stuffed with this much jargon, I do not know how complicated the scientific paper would be.
After going through the article, a few questions arose in my mind.
How have the defects in the Wildlife Institute’s method been taken care of? The Wildlife Institute’s method uses the same parameters as the proposed method. What refinements have been done in these two parameters?
Problem with the Camera Trap Method
The camera trap method has been used in various tiger habitats. Everyone using the method has come up with their own independent estimates, which have neither been accepted nor refuted by the others.
This method has so far been used to detect the presence of tigers. If it is used for counting tigers, there could be a tendency to lure the tiger towards the camera. This will result in interference to the habitat and habits of the animal.
The scientists who have always criticised track counting consider the camera trap the most important parameter.
Until now, the surveys have been conducted by the forest staff, whom the scientists consider inefficient. Who is going to conduct the survey in the new method? Isn’t it going to be costly if technically competent persons are employed? The wildlife is used to the presence of forest staff for years. Won’t the entry of so many new persons cause interference in the tiger habitat?
Statistical Models Haven’t Worked
The statistical models, so far, have given absurd results. Even the Wildlife Institute has estimated only 76 tigers in the Sundarbans despite there being 105 identified tigers. There is no explanation for the discrepancy.
It is just like estimating the number of students in a class by multiplying the number of benches with the average number of students in a few sampled benches.
The article does not focus on these important aspects. Instead, it tries to raise questions on the intention of the government. It is not clear weather it is really a scientific model or a new strategy to blackmail the forest department.
(With scientists coming up with a new method for estimating the number of tigers, The Quint debates whether the authorities should junk traditional methods of keeping a tab on the population of tigers. This is the counterview, you can read the view by Debkumar Mitra here.)
(NC Bahuguna is a retired IFS officer and author. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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