Kolkata: The annual wildlife monitoring exercise today began at Buxa Tiger Reserve (BTR) in north Bengal with the forest department hoping to collect photographic evidence about the presence of the big cats.
The exercise involves around 600 people, including forest department officials, wildlife lovers, NGOs and local villagers. A total 150 teams have been created to do the monitoring exercise till April, forest department sources said.
BTR field director R P Saini told PTI that since the vegetation is dense inside the forests and the tiger density is very low, tiger sightings are very tough.
"Last year our forest guards had spotted a tiger but since there was no camera with them, they could not click photographs. This time we are taking GPS devices and cameras to document all important findings.
Although the last tiger census conducted in 2010 had reported that around 12-15 tigers reside in the 750 sq km forest area in Jalpaiguri district, locals and wildlife activists have been critical of the study, saying they have hardly spotted big cats in BTR.
"For tigers, we will scan pug marks and collect tiger scats and look for other evidences to obtain their population. The scats would be sent for examination," Saini said.
Forest officials said changes in the overall health of the forests including vegetation, encroachment by villagers and the presence of other animals including elephants will be observed and recorded.
"Once this exercise is over we plan to start a camera trapping exercise for tiger census with funds from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)," Saini said.
BTR also serves as international corridor for elephant migration between India and Bhutan, but wildlife conservation has been affected by poaching and timber smuggling, encroachment by villagers and uncontrolled grazing by cattle.
Around 390 species of birds, 73 species of mammals, 76 species of snakes, 5 species of amphibians have been identified so far in Buxa.
Besides tiger, it hosts Asian elephants, leopard cats, Bengal floricans, Regal pythons, Chinese pangolin, Hispid hare and Hog deer.