Tiger population in Odisha: Another number spills out, baffles experts

Bhubaneswar: The number of estimates on count of tigers in Odisha could very well outstrip the actual population of the endangered species in the days to come- and the irony could be, we still may not know it.
After the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) came out with its census figures in 2015, it pegged the number of Royal Bengal Tigers (RBTs) in Odisha at 28. The Odisha government did not accept it.
Last year the Odisha government’s Forest & Environment department carried out a census which went on to estimate the number of tigers in Odisha at 40. However, yesterday, Odisha Forest and Environment minister, Bijoyshree Routray claimed that the number of Royal Bengal Tigers can be 80 in the state.
This new estimate by the minister has not only added to the confusion but also raised questions – if the government’s own estimate was 40 a year back, how could it register such a huge increase in the tiger population within a span of 12 months.
The tiger census is generally carried out using two methods- camera trapping and pug mark method. Using both the methods, the State government last year in its census estimated the tiger population at 40.
However, according to Routray’s  assessment, “The tiger count will be substantially higher under the pug mark method. Even today if we use the pug mark method, then there will be around 100 tigers in Odisha. ”
Stating that the camera trap method cannot be accepted as accurate, the minister argued that the RBTs keep themselves away from camera light.
“Tigers prefer to live in isolation in dense forests and avoid noise. Therefore, one cannot get the actual number through camera. Instead, one can get to near accuracy by adopting the pug mark method,” the minister said.
Such estimate of the tiger population in Odisha has also baffled experts.
“As per the camera trapping method, there are 28 tigers in Odisha. However, the State government has combined two methods and estimated the population to be at 40. However, 80 is not an acceptable number,” said former principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF), Bijayketan Patnaik.
“It will be an absolute mistake to think that tiger pollution will increase in the current situation. Pug mark is most authentic compared to any other method,” said wildlife expert, Lala AK Singh.