The Forest Department is expected to start a new pilot project using hidden cameras to count the number of Royal Bengal Tigers in the wild instead of the traditional pugmark technique that uses tigers’ footprints to determine their number.
In the new ‘camera trapping’ technique, hidden cameras will record the number of tigers.
“Camera trapping is more effective and widely accepted method than the pugmark technique,” Bangladesh Forest Department official Dr Tapan Kumar Dey told bdnews24.com.
He said the new technique would be put into use from April in a pilot project.
Asked about this choice, Dr Dey said the pugmark technique was ‘outdated’ while ‘camera trapping’ was ‘scientific and recognised worldwide’.
Moreover, he said, tigers could be counted ‘more accurately’ using the new method.
An expert on tigers, Prof Monirul H Khan said it was difficult to determine the number of the tigers based on their footprints.
“It is said footprints of tigers vary from tiger to tiger, a concept lacking a scientific base,” Khan, also a teacher at the Zoology Department of Jahangirnagar University, told bdnews24.com.
The Forest Department has undertaken an action plan to protect tigers until 2017. Prof Khan is also a member of the body.
According to a 2004 census on the Sundarbans, with assistance from the UNDP and Indian experts, there were 440 Royal Bengal Tigers in the 6,000 square kilometres of the world’s largest mangrove forest. Of them, 121 were males, 298 females and 21 were cubs.
However, Prof Khan said the number was lesser now.
He said he had carried out a census in 2006 in the Sunderbans to determine the tiger population. Khan said he had found only 200 tigers there.
Chief Executive of Wild Life Trust of Bangladesh Anowarul Islam also said he hoped the confusion over the number of tigers was dispelled using the camera trapping system.
“The stripes on the body of tigers vary and so it would be easier to identify them if we could take their pictures,” Islam, also a Professor in the Zoology Department of Dhaka University, told bdnews24.com.
He suggested being careful while using the method. “It is necessary to identify the trails tigers use and cameras should be set up accordingly.”
Dr Dey said primarily they would set up 60 cameras at several points in the Sunderbans at locations mostly used by tigers. “Two cameras will be set up at such points every two kilometres.”
He believes it will be possible to take more effective measures once the exact number of tigers is known.
Tigers on the wane
Wildlife expert Prof Islam said there were 13 different species of tigers in 17 districts in the Pakistan era, while they now exist only in Sunderbans. He said at present around 4,000 tigers roam 13 countries in the world.
The Royal Bengal tigers are found only in Bangladesh and India.
Prof Islam said shortage of food drive the tigers to human habitats. He said around 11,000 deer were killed every year in the Sunderbans by hunters.
According to official estimates, tigers visited human habitats 123 times in between July 2008 and July 2010. Of them, five were beaten to death, while 51 people and 36 livestock were killed in tiger attacks.
A total 193 people were killed in tiger attacks in between 2000 and 2009. Twenty-three tigers were also killed during the same period.
Experts say a tiger needs up to 40 square kilometres of area for roaming. Their habitat is rapidly shrinking due to the destruction of forests, rise of sea level and expansion of locality.
Prof Monirul said poachers killed five tigers on an average every year.
Experts say initiatives to save tigers will be futile if the government fails to build up a scientific knowledge-based forest department.
Prof Islam said the Wild Life Circle of the Forest Department would have to be given proper training and its workforce should also be increased.