Every year, since 2010, July 29 is celebrated as International Tiger Day to raise awareness about tiger conservation. India is home to over half of the world’s tigers. In 2010, India reportedly had 1,706 tigers, and this number increased to 2,226 in 2014. Isn’t a 30% increase in population in just four years remarkable? However, a study by an international team of researchers questioned the techniques used to estimate tiger populations in India and the accuracy of these numbers. Instead, they proposed a new mathematical model to determine tiger numbers accurately. Numbers drive most of the efforts and funds targeted at tiger conservation.
However, numbers do not necessarily mean healthy, hearty populations that can successfully breed and thrive for years to come. An alternative approach to monitoring tigers is to identify individuals and trace their health, family lineage and population. “Data generated from individuals can be used to estimate various parameters that help us understand the ecology, behaviour and evolutionary history of the populations,” says Prof Uma Ramakrishnan from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru.
“For instance, using the data on genetic variation, we can make inferences about connectivity between populations, changes in population size over time, inbreeding, assign parentage and so on,” she explains. Scientists use molecular techniques to get deeper insights into the lives of tigers, often without harming or disturbing them.