A viable tiger population in Similipal Tiger Reserve, India? Calculating if the ungulate prey base is limiting

25 March 2019

Upadhyay, Hari ; Behera, Satyaranjan; Dutta, Sushil; Sahu, Hemanta; Sethy, Janemajy

Low ungulate density can be a factor in limiting tiger populations, so to better manage tiger reserves one must be able assess if this is the case or if other factors might be more important. Here, we quantify ungulate density in a tiger reserve in India, compare it to other reserves, and estimate the tiger carrying capacity in order to assess this reserve can support a viable tiger population. Specifically, we studied the Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR), Odisha, India, from 2011 to 2014. The line transect method was used to estimate population density of available major ungulate prey species, i.e. sambar Rusa unicolor, wild pig Sus scrofa, barking deer Muntiacus muntjac, chital Axis axis and mouse deer Moschiola indica. A remarkable increase in ungulate prey density was noted in the intensive study area over the study period from 4.3 animals per km2 in the pre-monsoon season of 2011 to 28.9 animals per km2 in the post-monsoon season of 2014. This estimated ungulate density is very low compared to other tiger reserves of India. Density figures of ungulates when multiplied with the average weight of the respective species gave a biomass density of 1599.4 kg/Km2. This data was then used in two published empirical models to obtain estimates of tiger carrying capacity in STR. We used two empirical models from the published literature and concluded that the tiger carrying capacity of Similipal Tiger Reserve ranges between 1.3 and 3.8 tigers per 100 km2, much lower than our current estimates of tiger density. This suggests that the tiger population is below carrying capacity or that the estimated tiger population in critical tiger habitat falls below the threshold number. We suggest that the creation of large meadows for herbivores and the establishment of suitable fenced areas to augment breeding of the prey species.