Tech push brings tiger habitat ‘alive’ in Karnataka reserve


An ingenious initiative in the BRT tiger reserve in Karnataka that has put everyday technology like a GPS tracking device, a cellphone and a laptop in the hands of forest watchers — foot soldiers at the frontlines of tiger conservation — could be a potential gamechanger in the campaign to save India's national animal.

As they go about their daily dawn-to-dusk foot patrols through miles of wooded terrain, each forest watcher now carries a nifty device through which he logs the location of every sighting: tigers and herds of prey, snares and cooking fires that indicate intrusions, and so on. The watchers, many of them semi-literate tribals, transfer the data to a laptop and, using cellphone signal boosters, send it from the hilly terrain to a centralised data centre.

The initial success of such data gathering has encouraged forest authorities in Karnataka to extend the plan to all tiger reserves in the state.

While daily monitoring by foot is mandated by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), this is the first time that ubiquitous technology like GPS has been put into the hands of forest watchers stationed at remote anti-poaching camps deep inside the forest. The technological intervention is a crucial step in closely monitoring the habitat of the tiger.

"Sketchy, uncorroborated data would be scrawled in anti-poaching camp registers and lie covered in dust for years, but this brings the tiger's habitat alive," said Vijay Mohan Raj, chief conservator of forests at BRT reserve, who spearheaded the project called Huli (tiger in Kannada).

The pilot project has shown remarkable success in the six months of its trial involving 16 tribal watchers in four anti-poaching camps in the Punjur range of BRT reserve. The daily logs lend themselves to easy consolidation into monthly reports which then present a bigger picture of the ecosystem's dynamics — from the movement of elephant herds to the seasonality of prey like gaur and deer, disturbances to the habitat from poachers and grazers, and animal mortality. "It is a never-before depiction of a landscape in its entirety," said Raj.

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