A little over a month ago I wrote an article about tiger numbers in India being 30% up. This was world-wide, good news. It gave hope that there was a chance that the Bengal tiger could escape extinction in the wild.
Counting tigers (and any of the wild cat species) in the wild has been notoriously inaccurate in the past. Camera traps are more accurate and they were used when coming to the conclusion that tiger numbers were up.
An article in the India Times tells us that it is too early to celebrate the good news because the new data may be incorrect as a result of a measuring error.
I have to say that this does not in anyway surprise me. Not only is counting tigers difficult but there is political pressure to demonstrate that India is successfully conserving the tiger after years of apparent failure.
A method called “the Index Calibration model” was used. It is based on counting numbers in a region and then using a computer model to extrapolate nationwide numbers. It has been shown to be inconsistent and unreliable.
“….We are not at all disputing that tigers numbers have increased in many locations in India in last eight years, but the method employed to measure this increase is not sufficiently robust or accurate to measure changes at regional and country wide levels” (Dr Ullas Karanth, a co-author from the Wildlife Conservation Society).
And from Arjun Gopalaswamy, the lead author of the report from the Wildlife Conservation Research unit at Oxford University’s Dept of Zoology:
“…Our study shows that index-calibration models are so fragile that even a 10% uncertainty in detection rates severely compromises what we can reliably infer from them….”
The truth is that the pubic should always take with a pinch of salt any published national wildlife population figures. I am yet to see accurate numbers from any source. There is a lot of guesswork involved. Counting tigers continues to challenge the human as does counting the number of birds killed by feral and domestic cats in America.
The more likely scenario is a reduction on tiger numbers because there is a constant increase in human activity in India. Human activity forces out the tiger.