Estimating the prey population of tigers in the Barandhabar Corridor

The EDGE Fellows training course has now finished (and a fantastic time was had by all!) but we’ve still got lots of exciting stories to share with you. As part of their mini-project assignments, each of the participants wrote a blog – most about their experiences whilst carrying out the mini-projects but some more generally about the training course. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be bringing you a selection of these.

The first comes from Arun Kanagavel who’s from Kerala in India. When back in India, Arun (who very kindly supplied some of the amazing photos you seen from the training course) is keen to work on the Kerala Indian frog (ranked 87 on the EDGE amphibians list) but during the training course he found himself working with some rather larger animals…

It has been two weeks since the EDGE Workshop Participants attempted to estimate the prey population of tigers in the Barandhabar Corridor which connects the Chitwan National Park and buffer area.

This exercise would go on to help us build expertise in undertaking transect surveys and analysing the data collected using Distance software. For some of us this career enrichment motive was quickly overtaken by sheer excitement as we were to undertake surveys and record the animals encountered, while atop ELEPHANTS!

To ensure we hadn’t forgotten the motive of travelling on elephants, the afternoon before Jeff and Raj – the Workshop instructors – reminded us about the information to be collected and trained us in using GPSs, range finders, binoculars and compasses.

Eyes blazed out of our sockets on the fog-filled rainy morning, as we awaited the pachyderms’ arrival. And they came. In front stood huge boulders, trunk and tail in an oscillatory rhythm as the ears whished around at the troubling flies. The mahouts shouted out instructions and pushed behind their ears as they side-stepped and lay down crouched on one side for us to get atop. Two per elephant, one sat in the front, legs stretched really apart. The other sat facing the animal’s behind and was asked to hold cautiously on to the ropes. The animal then jerked backwards as it lifted itself up bringing the person at the back in parallel to the surface, only ten feet above.

Trashed by leaves and branches (one us even managed to fall off Sweety, the youngest of the elephants), a new perspective of the jungle dawned as we travelled high above the ground through the foliage and across rivulets with ease on the set survey route.  And then began the animal sightings…

We quickly clambered to record the GPS locations, the sighting distance and angle at which spotted deer, sambhar deer, barking deer and wild boars were seen. One team even saw a rhinoceros and a crocodile together at a watering hole while another managed to see a leopard (mostly its tail) speed into thick foliage. After six hours and a short food break (elephants love salt!) the survey had come to an end. Most teams had successfully managed to finish their transects while one team got so disorientated that they crisscrossed another team’s transect six kilometers away from theirs!

Back from the field and a day of analysis using the Distance software, we found the population estimate of the prey species to be around 3,848 individuals. One of the other participants, Ali, also had a brainwave inspired by the elephants – he could potentially use camels to monitor the critically endangered Hirola populations that he’s working on in the sands of Kenya. Genius!

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