Pilot of wildlife estimation exercise begins in Bandipur

The All India Tiger and Mega Herbivore Estimation 2020-21 got under way at Bandipur on Tuesday.

The exercise is held once in four years, and this is the pilot for the fifth one. The earlier ones were held in 2005, 2009, 2013, and 2017.

A release from Bandipur Tiger Reserve said this year’s exercise entailed the use of MSTRIPES (Management System for Tiger, Intensive Patrolling and Ecological Status) app, and apart from tiger count the exercise would also throw up data on mega herbivores, including elephants and gaurs.

The release stated that the exercise was being taken up as per the directions of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), and unlike in the past it was not a synchronised census taking place across the country simultaneously.

Bandipur Tiger Reserve director Natesh said the NTCA has ordered the completion of the exercise by December-end. The Forest Department staff were trained on the protocols and procedures to be followed and this obviated the reliance on volunteers, who would get one-day training which, the authorities said, was inadequate. Hence, this year’s endeavour is expected to come up with more robust data.

A master training programme was conducted at Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu in August and the trained staff have teamed up with experts from Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and others, the press release said.

The use of MSTRIPES and ECOLOGICAL app has ensured the data is digitised and uploaded in real time to the Tiger Cell in the State, which will forward it to the WII for analysis and interpretation. The pilot will continue till October 30. An official said that apart from direct sightings, indirect signs such as tiger scat and pug marks would be included.

As a result of the tiger estimation exercise, the authorities said there would be no safari on October 26 and 27. Bandipur had 126 individual tigers based on camera trap images in the 2017 exercise.

The dates of the all-India synchronous enumeration are yet to be announced.

‘Why the secrecy?’

The pilot for the tiger and mega herbivore estimation under way in Bandipur has received flak from wildlife activist Joseph Hoover, who said it was shrouded in secrecy.

He questioned whether the estimation of the national animal should be conducted secretively without the media being informed and with the involvement of only one NGO. Interestingly, the Bandipur park authorities had claimed in a press release that the current exercise was the actual enumeration, but they subsequently issued a corrigendum saying that it was a pilot.

Meanwhile, some senior officials of the Forest Department were unaware of the exercise and one of them said it was field testing for an app that had to be refined.

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