Tiger conservation and ecological survey

[ Karyir Riba ]

In November 2012, three tiger cubs were rescued from Angrim Valley village – a human settlement around Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary (DWS) in Dibang Valley district.
Recently, a study was published under the title, ‘Use of molecular-based approach in resolving subspecies ambiguity of the rescued tiger cubs from Arunachal Pradesh, India and their relationship with other population’.
According to this study, genetic findings confirmed the subspecies status of the rescued cubs as Bengal tigers. But they were unable to assign them at the sub-population level with precision due to paucity of genetic data. However, genetic closeness with reported TIG 25 haplotype suggested that the rescued cubs originated from a population of Northeast India.
The study also suggests that after the genetic ancestry of the rescued cubs was established as being that of the Bengal tiger, the state’s forest department initiated a pilot project (during the 2014 All India tiger monitoring) to assess the tiger presence in DWS and adjoining forests.
An ecological survey undertaken with camera traps and photographs suggested the presence of tigers in DWS.
The DWS is a vast area of 4149 sq kms, out of which camera trapping was done in an area of around 336 sq kms. Reportedly, these camera traps captured 11 tigers during the period between 2014 and 2016.
Namdapha Tiger Reserve (NTR) Field Director Tapek Riba informed that during the period between 2014 and 2015, three tigers were spotted by camera traps in NTR, too.
Very recently, the camera trap teams in two ranges – Miao and Gandhigram – spotted fresh pugmarks in their respective areas, Riba informed, adding, however, that these are yet to be verified and confirmed as tiger pugmarks.
Deb Ranjan Laha, who is a project fellow with the Monitoring System for Tigers – Intensive Protection and Ecological Status in the WII-National Tiger Conservation Authority’s tiger cell, informed that there are five main landscapes for tigers in India – the Northeast hills and the Brahmaputra flat banks, the Sundarbans, central India, the Terai arc, and the Western Ghat complex.
“According to a 2014 estimate, the Western Ghat complex has the highest population of tigers in the country. However, the Northeast hills and the Brahmaputra flat banks have the most potential and are together considered the most promising landscape for tiger conservation,” informed Laha.
He said certain religious beliefs that surround tigers in most parts of India help in creating awareness for conservation of tigers.
“Since many believe that tigers are the wahan (carriage) of goddesses Santoshi and Durga, tiger hunting is not entertained,” he said.
Riba is also of the same opinion, and says the status of tigers in most tribal communities of Arunachal Pradesh and the bad omens related to tiger poaching traditionally works as an automatic way of tiger conservation in the state.
He informed that in the Galo tribe, tigers are never hunted for pleasure. However, in situations such as when a tiger has gone rogue and becomes a menace for the villagers, a certain ritual is performed to select a person to kill the tiger. No one wants to be the chosen one for the purpose as that person has to perform a number of rituals and follow many customary restrictions after the killing, which includes being ousted from the village and having to live outside the village for a year; not being allowed to eat onions and garlic; and being restricted from celebrating Mopin the rest of their life, among other things. A large funeral ritual is also held for the tiger, similar to those held for humans.
Similarly, in the Mishmi tribe, according to anthropologist Dr Tarun Mene, tigers are not hunted until a situation arises where it has to be killed or has been killed accidentally. The tiger has to be given a funeral similar to that given to a human.
When we speak of tiger conservation, the questions that arise are: does it really require human intervention, and do they not populate naturally? To this, Laha informed that tigers would definitely grow in population even if left alone. However, if they only breed within their own particular groups (similar to inbreeding), there are strong chances that that the particular group might become extinct one day, he said.
As per reports, the total tiger population in India has been estimated to be only 2226. With rapid deforestation and encroachment of forest domains by humans, only time will tell if the tigers will increase in number or if they will be a thing of the past in India.