Morni Wildlife Census- The Methodology

Every year the Haryana Forest Department conducts a census of wild animals in the State in technical collaboration with the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun.While conducting the census in natural forests like Morni the area is divided into beats, 10-15 Sq. Km in size and some beats are selected as a representative sample for the purpose of the census. The census in Morni is generally conducted for carnivores, ungulates, pheasants, monkeys and langurs.

Carnivores: The carnivores like tiger, leopard, hyena, jungle cat, jackal, Indian civets etc are known for their tendency to use dirt roads, forest trails, foot paths, river beds and nallahs. Typically three such trails/ search paths are selected in each beat for intensive search with each path ranging from 3 to 5 KM. The field staff deputed for the census are required to familiarize themselves with the beat topography and forest type at least ten days in advance and to identify the trails for the search. They mark the GPS coordinates of the centre of the beat and also the start and end point of each trail. The trails are named individually for purpose of recording data on the data sheet. During the census they look for signs like pug marks, scats (droppings), scrapes, claw rakes, vocalization (roar, howl etc), direct sighting etc . While recording each sign a mention is made of the forest topography and the forest type.

Ungulates and Pheasants: For ungulates (‘hoofed’ animals) typically sambar, chital, nilgai, hog deer, goral, chinkara, wild pig, and blackbuck and for pheasants (Indian Peafowl and Red Jungle fowl) as well as langurs and monkeys a straight line of about 2 km is marked in the beat. The staff mark the GPS coordinates of the end points and name the line transect. On the day of the census the staff are instructed to avoid bright coloured clothes as they walk up and down the line recording the sighting of animals. Care is taken while preparing the transect for the to and fro movement to cause minimum disturbance and to not create a proper path. The sighting on the line is recorded first. The perpendicular distance from the transect is mentioned while recording sightings away from the transect. Data pertaining to habitat characteristics (number of trees with species, number of cut/lopped trees,shrub cover, distance to nearest road, village and trail) and fecal pellet groups of ungulates (used for estimating the abundance of each species) is recorded for a sample of 5 circular plots of 10 metre radius marked at 400 metre intervals on the line transect. The habitat characteristics, density of of ungulates and density of carnivore signs are then used to estimate the abundance of carnivores.

Wildlife Census: Beat, Trail and Line Transect

The latest census in Morni was conducted in May 2012 and the findings revealed an apparent increase in the number of carnivores.

P.S. The findings of a wildlife census are only broadly indicative and do not give any exact estimates. The difficulties associated with the exercise can be gauged from the complexity and expertise involved in interpreting scats (droppings) of wild animals- just one of the signs recorded during the census. Scats reveal information on the type of animal, its diet and its health to the expert who looks for clues in the size, colour and shape of scats and combines this information with additional clues from the habitat, tracks etc.  The task of interpretation is however not easy as there is considerable overlap and changes in pattern with change in diet. Thus while typically the deer scat is round and dimpled yet if  the moisture in the diet increases the scats start resembling  cow  dung. The wildlife scientists will sometimes pick up samples and study the pH value in the lab to positively identify the species!