International Tiger Day has been making headlines all over the world. Amidst this, the Times of India (TOI) reported that for the first time, a tiger has been spotted at 12,000 feet in Uttarakhand, leaving experts exhilarated. The tiger cropped up in camera trap images at Askot in the upper reaches of Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh. The altitude is usually thought to be the habitat of snow leopards.
Talking to TOI, Bilal Habib, scientist at the Wildlife Institute of India, who captured the images under an ongoing project on biodiversity conservation, said the altitude at which the tiger was spotted was the highest for any tiger in India.
“There are some old British literary documents which mention the sighting of tigers at high elevations but as far as I know there’s been no scientific or photographic evidence regarding this,” he said. As per records, the highest altitude where a tiger has been spotted is in Bhutan, where it was photographed at over 13,000 feet (4000m).
DVS Khati, principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), told TOI that tigers have been found in Uttarakhand at altitudes which vary between 3,000 and 4,000 feet. “When we saw camera trap images of the tigress at an elevation over 12,000 feet earlier this year, it was a revelation to us,” he said.
“We did not make the information public immediately since a lot of green area in Pithoragarh is outside protected areas. We did not want to put the safety of the tiger at risk as the area is located quite close to the Nepal border which has been witnessing frequent movement of poachers,” Khati said.
He also said that the wildlife department was coordinating with its counterparts in Nepal, and also with the state police, Indo-Tibetan Border Police and Seema Suraksha Bal (SSB) for intelligence sharing around the area and beefing up security for the tigers due to fears of poaching.
In 2009, pugmarks of a Royal Bengal Tiger were found in the snow at an altitude of 10,000 feet in the Himalayas near Jelepla in eastern Sikkim after a gap of nearly 18 years. Then, officials had called it a rare discovery, since tigers are usually found in the plains and almost never above 6,000 feet.
The tiger, however, was not found.
These revelations, however, may not be able to definitely say anything about changing territorial patterns of the tigers, Bivash Pandav, tiger expert at WII told TOI. He added that more studies may be required to determine territorial patterns and record the changes in it.