AHMEDABAD: For the first time since 1992, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has included a swath of Gujarat in the tiger census — the Dang district (bordering Maharashtra's Nashik) will be covered by the census that begins this month. Gujarat will be part of the census in the second phase, during which the NTCA and a team of scientists will conduct a special 'sign survey' and lay camera traps. If the NTCA confirms spotting tigers in Dang, Gujarat will be confirmed as the only state in the country that is home to all three big cats — lions, tigers and leopards —just as it was till a few decades after Independence.
The honorary wildlife warden of the Maharashtra government, Amit Khare, has confirmed the presence of tigers in Dang and has also noticed their presence on the Nandurbar-Gujarat border. "I had informed the NTCA and Wildlife Institute of India about the presence of tigers," Khare said. "If the Gujarat government is keen on conserving tigers, I can give them the exact location of tigers in Gujarat. We are not making the exact location public, fearing poachers."
Khare was the first to submit a scat analysis report in November 2016 which had revealed that a male tiger had ventured right up to the border of Gujarat, some 3-4 km from Dang forest. Soon thereafter, Rajya Sabha member Parimal Nathwani wrote to the Gujarat government to initiate a tiger conservation programme.
In the September 1979 issue of a wildlife journal, "Cheetal", special chief conservator of forests, M A Rashid had raised the first alarm about the dwindling population of tigers in Gujarat. Ten years later, a group of tigers was spotted in Dang for the last time; the census estimated the presence of 13 tigers. Then the 1992 census revealed that tigers had disappeared from Gujarat. A lone tiger was spotted in 1997, never to be seen again.
Kausik Banerjee, a Wildlife Institute of India scientist, said: "The presence of tigers has been noticed in Nashik district especially near Malegaon. That tract adjoins Dang in Gujarat." Banerjee said a special team will be assigned to Gujarat. "The team will lay camera traps and also conduct a detailed sign survey," he said. "If the presence of tigers is detected, the NTCA will plan long-term measures." The NTCA's current tiger census will include scat analysis, study of pug marks, and the analysis of leftover of ungulate kills (chital, sambhar, wild boar, and cattle).
R D Kamboj, the director of Gujarat Ecological Education and Research Foundation, said: "We have already sent a proposal to the state government to request the NTCA to conduct a tiger census in the state." Banerjee said, "Even if there is a presence of tigers in Dang, theirs will be dispensing population and not a stable one."