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Monitoring Tigers and Their Prey

It is 11 p.m. and I am fiddling with the DVD case. The title, ‘Monitoring Tigers and Their Prey’ is at once interesting and disheartening. While the golden eyes on the front cover are appealing, it is the fine print that is worrying.


I switch it on, ready for 50 minutes of self-flagellation for not having studied science and therefore having such documentaries go right over my head. Ten minutes into the DVD, I was fluffing up my pillows and sitting up a little higher. By the end of the first chapter I was perfectly upright, shushing my sister for rustling the pages of her book.


For decades, India has relied on the pugmark system to estimate tiger numbers, a method that often yielded inflated figures and subsequently complacency. Dr. K. Ullas Karanth, a senior conservation scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and James D. Nichols, senior scientist, Patuxent Wildlife Research Centre, U.S. Geological Survey, Maryland, sought to fill in these loopholes by designing and describing the line-transect sampling method, camera-trapping surveys and the occupancy sample method.


Their world acclaimed manual ‘Monitoring Tigers and Their Prey’ (published in 2002) has been described as ‘a conceptually unified, rigorous approach to monitoring tiger and prey populations’ (Sanctuary, Vol. XXIII No. 1, February 2003). This film is the accompanying training video, commissioned by the WCS’ India Program, and in the words of Ravi Chellam, Country Director (India), WCS, “aimed at simplifying scientific techniques such as ‘camera trapping’ so that researchers, park managers and students follow the correct practices while monitoring the big cats.”


Clear, concise and full of informative tidbits, this film is a rare and comprehensive body of work. It brings science out of the cold, steel laboratories; carefully examining the different methods of determining tiger and their prey populations in defined areas. Right from the basics of selecting a sample size to the necessary equipment and the ‘how to’ of filling data sheets, the module uses animated graphics and graphs to explain each method in great, yet simple-to-understand, detail.


A 10-minute introduction briefs you on the problems faced by those involved in enumerating tiger numbers and the need to conduct a simultaneous count of prey animals within the same region. The three subsequent chapters deal with each individual technique, running through the rationale, methodology, advantages and disadvantages, useful tips and finally a summary. The documentary gives you an insight into how a marriage of different methods helps you create an exhaustive database of both tigers and their prey in a wildlife park. The narration is simple, straightforward and presented in a stepwise manner accompanied by captions on the screen.


This is a must watch for students of biology and wildlife, park managers and all those interested in tiger conservation. The documentary will assist teachers in the field of ecology to simplify the concept of animal population estimation. More importantly, if seen in conjunction with the manual ‘Monitoring Tigers and Their Prey’ it will help researchers in planning their studies. The 50-minute documentary is also available on the popular video site, YouTube at the following link <www.youtube.com/monitoringtigers>.


By Swati Hingorani


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