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India’s tiger census creates Guinness record


India’s 2018 tiger census has entered the Guinness Book of World Records for being the world’s largest camera trap wildlife survey. For the survey, camera traps were placed at 26,838 locations across 141 different sites.

A Union environment ministry statement on Saturday called India’s tiger conservation efforts a “gold standard” for the world.

Environment minister Prakash Javadekar tweeted, “The All India Tiger Estimation is now in the Guinness World Records for being the largest camera trap wildlife survey, a great moment indeed and a shining example of Aatmanirbhar Bharat.” He also said that India fulfilled its target of doubling tiger numbers four years in advance of its promised 2022 deadline.

The 2018 All India Tiger estimation had found 2967 tigers in the country, compared to 2,226 in 2014.

The minister also shared an image of the World Record citation on his official Twitter handle.

“The fourth iteration of the survey-conducted in 2018-19-was the most comprehensive to date, in terms of both resource and data amassed. Camera traps (outdoor photographic devices fitted with motion sensors that start recording when an animal passes by) were placed in 26,838 locations across 141 different sites and surveyed an effective area of 121,337 square kilometres (46,848 square miles). In total, the camera traps captured 34,858,623 photographs of wildlife (76,651 of which were tigers and 51,777 were leopards; the remainder were other native fauna). From these photographs, 2,461 individual tigers (excluding cubs) were identified using stripe-pattern-recognition software…,” the citation on the website of the Guinness World Records read.

The estimation methodology, however, was criticised by academics for being misleading.

A scientific paper titled “How sampling-based overdispersion reveals India’s tiger monitoring orthodoxy” by Arjun M Gopalaswamy from the Indian Statistical Institute, K Ullas Karanth from the Centre for Wildlife Studies, noted tiger expert Mohan Delampady from the Indian Statistical Institute, and Nils C Stenseth from the University of Oslo, in the Journal Conservation Science and Practice on November 4, 2019 flagged photographic manipulation and mathematical flaws with the survey.

A major issue, according to the authors, was the use of a survey methodology that relies extensively on models involving an ‘index of tiger abundance’ derived from field counts of tiger signs. The surveys assume that there is a strong relationship between real tiger numbers and their signs, which may not be the case.

“The Wildlife Institute of India had applied for this Guinness World Record with our (NTCA) approval soon after the results were declared by the Prime Minister. We stand by our numbers and estimation methodology. In fact, out of the estimated 2967 tigers, 2461 tigers or 83 % of them have been individually captured. If anything, the numbers are conservative,” said Anup Kumar Nayak, former member secretary, National Tiger Conservation Authority, who was in charge of the estimation. Nayak retired from his post on June 30.