Monitoring Deer and the Tiger: In Melghat Tiger Reserve

This project is part of a long-term endeavor for monitoring tiger and prey in Melghat Tiger Reserve of Maharashtra. The overall goal of the project is to provide information on the status of tigers and their prey in and around Melghat Tiger Reserve needed to allow science based management of the protected area by the Forest Department. A study area of 360 km2 has been identified in Melghat Tiger Reserve by an earlier project of Centre for Wildlife Studies, Bangalore, wherein permanent line transects and scat encounter routes are marked. Estimation of prey animals of the tiger is carried out by distance sampling. Monitoring of tigers and other major carnivores is carried out by determining the scat encounter rate along the foot trails. The exercise was carried out with the help of Field Staff of Tiger Reserve and volunteers.

The surveys were divided in to two parts: scat encounter surveys and line transect surveys.  Prior to starting the field surveys, the participants were trained in field methods in identifying tracks and signs of herbivores and carnivores, estimating the distance of animal seen with the help of laser ranger finders and  use of compass.

Sambar, gaur, muntjac and langur are the main prey species available for tiger in the study area. Detections of nilgai and chital have increased in the study area. If this trend continues there may be sufficient detections in future years to predict their populations. Major biomass contribution in the diet of tiger, leopard and wild dog is from cervid and bovid families. Primates and rodents contribute to a considerable extent to the leopard’s diet but much less to the diet of the tiger and wild dog. This study has recorded presence of chital in the scats of all three carnivores. This was not the case with earlier studies. Chital is not a common species in Melghat. In year 2000, three villages namely, Kund, Koha and Bori were relocated from the study area by the Forest Department. The abandoned village sites now support good grasslands. This habitat is found to be suitable for chital, nilgai, and gaur and their sightings have increased in this area.

Through the monitoring study, totally 679.7 km has been walked to estimate prey density Since Indian subcontinent holds the key to global survival and recovery of wild tigers, it is therefore imperative that viable tiger habitats in the country be scientifically monitored on an annual basis to track the population trends. Training and capacity building of Forest Department officers and staff is an important component of the monitoring project as it creates involvement of the Forest Department and nature lovers in population monitoring. Considering the current situation of declining tiger and prey populations in the country, it is crucial that continuous monitoring of tiger and prey populations is carried out in tiger reserves of the country by qualified agencies in support with the Forest Department.

Supported by:  Save the Tiger Fund, USA

Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund, USA