Noninvasive genetic monitoring of tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) population of Orang National Park in the Brahmaputra floodplain, Assam, India
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The Brahmaputra Valley of Assam, India, is one of the prime habitats for the endangered Royal Bengal tiger Panthera tigris tigris. With dwindling global population, estimation of the minimum number of tigers has always been a curiosity to wildlife researchers as well as to protected area managers. In the present study, DNA-based techniques were used for identifying individual tigers present in Orang National Park of Assam, from 57 faecal samples collected during February 2009. Orang National Park stands as an island of a single forest patch along the north bank of river Brahmaputra. The present study confirms the presence of 17 individual tigers in Orang National Park, with five male and 12 female. DNA-based capture–recapture analysis yielded minimum range estimate of 18 and 19 individuals, with possible overestimates of population size following two models of capture probability in CAPWIRE. The results of our genetic counting of tigers are compared with the estimates of 19 tigers based on pugmark analysis by the state Forest Department in 2000 and an independent capture–recapture estimate of 14 (±3.6) individuals based on photographic identity study in 2009. Looking at high mortality of tigers in the area, with 19 reported deaths during 2000 to 2009, our results indicate high individual turnover in the area. This study shows that Orang National Park harbours a healthy breeding population of tigers. However, the possibility of a source-sink dynamics operating in the landscape could not be ruled out, with possible immigration from nearby Kaziranga National Park on the south bank of Brahmaputra, which has the highest reported density of the species in the world.