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Tiger Census 1997:
Diary maintained by Mr. Parth Sharma.
A wildlife enthusiast/volunteer who was invited by the director , Corbett Tiger Reserve, Ramnagar, India  for the tiger census from 5-12 May 97.

My trusted friend Ajay and I departed from Delhi at our regular time of 3:30 a.m. in order to reach Ramnagar by 9:00 a.m. We reached Ramnagar as scheduled and were informed that our assigned duties were at Dhikala and we should proceed for our duties immediately. At Dhangarhi when we entered we were informed that it had rained heavily the previous night and on our way we felt cold soothing breeze which immediately removed all the tiredness of our journey. The park was lush green whereas the ground was yellow covered by the falling dry leaves and we started doubting a smooth and successful tiger census operations since everywhere the ground was covered by dry leaves, there was little ground left for tigers to leave their marks. We halted for a while on the way to see a peacock dancing and trying to impress his lady.

We reached Dhikala at 10:30 a.m. and were delighted as always to meet the staff of Dhikala. Mr. Pant welcomed us with warm greetings and informed us that the duty timings were from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. My duty was assigned with Mr. Harak Singh Aswal, which is an honor in itself. Mr. Aswal is a forester who has been in the service for over 35 years and is very much respected in the CTR, he is also known as "the pelican" and is a genius with his knowledge of birds. We have even heard some foreign tourists saying that the bird watching groups are sold in the U.K. by just taking his name. My friend Ajay was assigned the duty with Mr. Avdesh, forest guard.

 At 4:00 p.m. we were all ready when we met Mr. Aswal. He informed me that our area was Kammarpatta Marg, Chooha Pani till Amla Sot, and surrounding areas as per CTR it was area 9, 12, and 13. My friend Ajay was to proceed with Mr. Avdesh, who had the area Bichhoo Boji and the Chokor water holes, Amla Sot downward till Dhikala main road or as per CTR area 8 and 11.We started together on the Patarpani Marg and Mr. Puran who had the area of no.3 water hole also joined us. Ajay, Avdesh and Ramesh separated us at Thandi Road towards Bichhoo Boji whereas Mr. Puran and group separated a little later at Kammarpatta turning right towards Mota Sal whereas we turned left towards Chooha Pani.

We were three people in our group. Mr. Aswal, myself and Mr. Farooq who is an assistant / Charakut by profession (i.e. cutting food for elephant and looking after them). Further on the way we saw a group of elephants crossing the main way where we halted and let them pass first. Since I had the opportunity of the company Mr. Aswal the traveling was utilized for learning the names of different birds that came our way and recognizing the birds whenever I heard a bird calling. By now I know when a Barbet calls or the Indian Cuckoo. I can recognize the paradise Flycatcher, Hornbill Pied or Grey, the Robin and other Flycatchers, Emerald Dove, the Minibits and many more apart from the common birds which I already know.

At intersections of sots (natural waterways) we made pads, i.e. first cleared the area of the dry leaves then loosened the sand so that if the tiger walks on it good impressions could be made on the pad. The tiger normally walks in sots, bathias, and intersections. At the intersection of Kammarpatta and Chooha Pani we rested for a while after making a big pad. We must have covered around 6 km. Mr. Aswal informed me that he did not cover Chooha Pani in the evenings since it would be quite late by the time we returned back to the base Dhikala. We proceeded further towards Dhikala Road when further down the road we came across a big herd of elephants blocking the road and leisurely having a bath at the small water hole that had been made by yesterday's rain. We waited for nearly 45 minutes and when they cleared the road we were able to proceed. We had covered nearly 10-11 km. by foot before saying bye to Mr. Aswal; he inform me that today it was just a warm-up and the next day would be tough. Hearing this I headed straight for my room to be ready for the next day.

This day no pug marks were found either by us or Mr. Ajay's group.

I am writing this days events with nagging pain in my legs. In the morning we would have covered nearly 16-17 km. and in the evening around 12 km. on foot. We started in the morning at 6:15. a.m., this time accompanied by a different assistant. Mr. Mohammad Yar, our earlier helper had to go to some important errand. We followed the same route as yesterday. Dhikala-Patarpani-Kammarpatta where we took a turn towards Chooha Pani waterhole. Here we came across our first pug marks. The sand was hard due to rains, hence the impression was not clear enough. The palm (gadeli in Hindi) of the tiger was not clear at all, nor the stride. From what we could make out it seemed as a tigress's impressions since it had pointed fingers rest nothing could be made. Mr. Aswal and I discussed in length that tiger marks should be taken since a tiger exists and it should be counted. If tomorrow it rains again or due to some other reason this tiger could be left out and one tiger short could be counted, but in subsequent days if we found similar marks in the same area we could dismiss the earlier marks taken. We both agreed and took the prints and then made fresh pads on the same ground.

It was interesting to see how the marks were taken. First a glass sheet was placed about one inch above the left pug mark then from one angle preferably perpendicular the marks were copied on the glass by a sketch pen. Then keeping a tracing paper on the glass we copied the marks on the tracing paper facing the light so that clear impression was copied on the paper. Along with the tracing of the pug marks the following information is also noted.

I) Identify the beat - area details are noted
II) The stride is noted - measured from:
a. left front finger to finger
b. or in short tip to tip
c. or palm to palm
III) Surface condition is noted
a. color and texture of sand
b. hard or soft
IV) Style of walk - normal, fast or slow.
a. In a normal walk the rear pug falls on the fore pug
b. In a fast walk the rear pug falls in front of the fore pug.
c. In a slow walk the rear pug falls behind the fore pug.
V) Time
VI) Any other information
VII) Counter signatures

We returned the way Chooha Pani - Kammarpatta - Dhikala  Road looking continuously for the pug marks on the way but none were found.

In the evening while talking to some other groups we came across a person who was quitting the job in between, it was amusing and sad to hear him narrating the events of the day. Amusing because he was describing the difficulties that how he had to cross the Ramganga thrice barefoot and how he had to go inside deep sots and ravines with twists and turns and how he fell down in water waist high and there were ulcers on his feet. It was sad because to see a employee (guide) of CTR quit a tough job assigned to him and unfortunate that he was creating a bad example for others.

Tiger census is not all the fun as it seems. One has to walk nearly 30-40 km. a day on foot and has to be alert all the time from the risk of wild elephants, tigers, snakes etc.. A gun bearer is with you, but the gun cannot scare a tiger or elephant nor there is a certainty that it would fire accurately when needed.

The guns the forest guards have are obsolete and without maintenance for long time and the chances of misfiring a 12 bore is very high . Tiger census is not all the fun as it seems. One has to walk nearly 30-40 km. a day on foot and has to be alert all the time from the risk of wild elephants, tigers, snakes etc.. A gun bearer is with you, but the gun cannot scare a tiger or elephant nor there is a certainty that it would fire accurately when needed. The guns the forest guards have are obsolete and without maintenance for long time and the chances of misfiring a 12 bore is very high. It was also sad to observe that no one was present as yet from any of the organizations / NGO's who are supposed to be doing so much for betterment of wildlife yet when the time had come to contribute in efforts they were not present. The presence of a wildlife enthusiast gives a boost to the moral of the employees who are already doing their jobs. An impression is taking roots in the mind of wildlife lovers / enthusiasts that the NGO's were basically guarding their financial interest so that they remain the sole finance controller for disbursement of money for saving the parks and actually they are unconcerned about safety of jungles and animals.

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