Bengal tigers once roamed Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Bhutan in numbers reaching the tens of thousands, but as a result of widespread deforestation, habitat loss and the decline of prey species, the population of this majestic animal currently stands at just over 3,000 individuals.
The governments of India and Nepal have launched a joint survey, the first of its kind, in an attempt to identify the exact number of Bengal tigers residing within the Terai Arc region. An area shared by both countries, the Terai Arc region extends over 950 kilometres across Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand in India, and into southern Nepal, and is home to more than a dozen wildlife preserves and forests.
According to WWF, one of the organisations assisting in the survey, the region has the distinction of housing one of the world’s densest concentrations of tigers, with an estimated 500 tigers thought to be living within its reserves and forests. The survey aims to determine exact figures for the region, while simultaneously assessing the availability of prey species.
A key part of the survey involves the installation of hundreds of remote motion-sensitive cameras, known as camera traps, along wild paths known to be frequented by tigers. Any tigers that come within range of the camera will be photographed, enabling scientists to identify individual cats by their unique markings.
“The same tiger trapped by a camera here on the Nepali side could cross over into India, but that tiger will be trapped by another camera there,” said Megh Bahadur Pandey, the Director General of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.
This method of individually identifying tigers means that no tiger will be counted twice, thus making the population estimate far more accurate.
The Terai Arc survey forms an essential part of an ambitious plan set during 2012, the Year of the Tiger, to double the wild tiger population by 2022.
“The results will show whether we are succeeding or failing towards that goal,” explained Anil Manandhar, the country representative of the WWF Nepal programme.
While the joint results may take up to four months to be compiled, it is hoped that the data gathered during the survey will assist in the development of effective tiger conservation strategies, and go some way towards saving one of the most charismatic species on the planet.
Read more on this story at BBC News – India and Nepal begin Royal Bengal tiger census.
Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author