Monitoring Tigers in the Twenty-First Century India-Part IV

Monitoring Tigers in the Twenty-First Century India-Part IV

-Vinod Rishi

Here is the fourth part of an article published by Shri Vinod Rishi in

The Indian Forester. Vol.136:10. Wild Life Special. 

Shri Vinod Rishi is IFS – retd. and a Former Additional Director General of Forests (Wildlife), Govt. of India; E-mail: vinodrishi@rediffemail.com

The Question of Monitoring Tigers for Tiger Conservation

The shift from field methods to statistical models has, apparently, made no improvement in the monitoring of tiger populations and habitats. The process for search and documentation of even the basic information needed for the conservation of tiger and other elements in its habitat has become tardy, time consuming, heavy on manpower, uneconomic, unverifiable, time warped and hence redundant and unsustainable. At the least, the field methods were providing results that could be challenged and subjected to verification; but the current approach is beyond any cross-checking. The choice is: take it or leave it!
Both academic as well as field approaches have been tried out in India, and have been found to have their respective strengths and weaknesses in their application in the monitoring of the populations of tiger and associated wildlife. A quick appraisal of the two may help in providing an approach for monitoring their populations by acquiring the strengths of the both for immediate use.

(A). Application of Statistical and System Analysis Models
One has to start with the understanding that Statistics is a tool and not an end in itself; and that the statistical models create virtual reality. Even though, in India, attempts were made to promote the statistical models and systems analysis approach in the first half of the 1980’s (Saharia, Undated), it did not find ready acceptance in the field of wildlife management, even after the advancements and improved availability of computer software and techniques. The chance factor, or probability, gives a feeling of unreliability to the users, who find field methods giving a better and more tangible picture of the objectives they are concerned with.

The reliability of the statistical models used in the systems analysis approach depends on what information is being fed to the model designer. A model is nothing more than “…an abstraction of the true experimental situation, representing all relevant features of reality. When used in population estimation, the model will be constructed in such a way that the unknown quantities are expressed in the terms of known or observed quantities” (Overton, 1971). “The first step to successful Systems Analysis is the careful identification of questions to which the model is to be addressed.” (Overton, 1977).  But its acceptability depends on the confidence it can generate in the mind of the user – in this case the wildlife manager.

Systems, especially natural systems, are large and hierarchical, i.e., composed of complexes of systems within systems. The modeling approach depends upon simplifying the systems by assumptions so that models can be derived and solved. But systems analysis and modeling approaches greatly depend upon the accurate assessment of complex system questions. There is intractability of very large systems for development of differential equations, the difficulty of defining modeling parameters, and obtaining data appropriate to models. The behavior of a larger system can be understood only to a limited extent from the next lower hierarchical system; it is not a reliable way to predict the behavior of larger system by studying the next lower hierarchical system. “Moreover, the system properties emerge not only from their components but also from their linkages. As the systems become larger and more complex, our ability to predict system behaviour becomes less certain.” (Reed, 1995).

It follows that the enormous diversity of the tiger occupied ecosystems in India poses a formidable challenge for application of a hypothetical hierarchical model developed in one or two landscapes to the entire range of diverse ecosystems. Models for Satpura-Maikal landscape cannot be applied to the mangrove forests of Sunderbans or Terai grasslands, or tropical evergreen and semi-evergreen rain forests, or desert and scrub ecosystems. On the acceptance and applicability aspects, a system’s properties are meaningful for the user only in terms of the hierarchical level in which he is interested.

The reliability of population estimation at field level is closely linked with the reliability of the process of construction of a model. Modeling is an art. The research work and refinement of Systems Analysis, and statistical sampling approaches is massive in the U.S.A. The adaptation of models developed in other countries, and honed with experience in Indian ecosystems – as has been done in Nagarhole in south India – is encouraging. But it does not obviate the need to develop further experience by working in other biogeographically and ecologically different landscapes. At present even the basic research in the Indian tiger habitats is patchy and inadequate for developing models one can confidently apply in India.
The current model adopted by the NTCA for evaluation and monitoring of the status of tiger populations needs significant improvement to provide accuracy, validity, and conceptual rigor of the outputs needed for effective management of tiger conservation in India.

-To be Continued

For earlier parts of the article click on the links below

Monitoring Tigers in the Twenty-First Century India-Part I

Monitoring Tigers in the Twenty-First Century India-Part II

Monitoring Tigers in the Twenty-First Century India-Part III

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