A Royal Bengal Tiger captured by camera traps at Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary in Sikkim Credit: Sikkim forest department

Gangtok: The tiny Himalayan state of Sikkim can confidently share to the world its wildlife ranging from as grand as the Royal Bengal tiger to something as ‘mystical’ as the snow leopard. This ‘confidence’ is an outcome of digital photos and videos of wild animals being captured by camera traps in the state since 2016-17.

A total of 262 camera traps were installed at strategic locations in the seven protected areas of Sikkim by the state forest department. This was done with funding received from JICA-assisted Sikkim Biodiversity Conservation and Forest Management Project. In the second phase, 200-plus camera traps were placed in these protected areas.

Camera traps are motion-sensitive cameras that can sense and record movements of animals in the form of digital photos and videos.

History was created in December last year when a camera trap at Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary recorded images of the Royal Bengal Tiger roaming in the sanctuary. This camera footage supported the previous oral narratives of tigers freely criss-crossing the wilds of Sikkim having migrated from neighbouring north Bengal.

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“Earlier, before the camera traps and their footage, we could only say that Sikkim has different types of exotic and endangered wildlife species. We did not have photos or video records. As an example, we have heard of Royal Bengal Tigers moving around our state’s forests but it was doubtful without photographic evidence. But now, thanks to camera traps, we have all the evidence and records to show that our biodiversity supports such endangered and elusive wildlife species. There is no doubt that the forests of Sikkim are indeed a rich repository for floral and faunal diversity,” said Dechen Lachungpa, DFO (East Wildlife Division).

The same month saw the movement of a snow leopard at Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary subsequently captured by camera traps.

A snow leopard captured by cameras at Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary in East Sikkim

Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary, spread over 124 sq km in East Sikkim, shares borders with the forests of Bhutan, and Neora Valley National Park of north Bengal. It has proved to be a happy hunting ground for camera traps which also captured the Indian bison on two occasions this year.

First, it was a lone Indian bison and in the second time, it was a whole herd of the animal. The Indian bison is a Schedule I species under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

Wildlife division teams visit the camera trap locations every two months. They replace the battery of the cameras and retrieve the data stored in the memory cards.

As informed by the DFO, fresh visuals are yet to be collected from the higher altitudes due to snow and inclement weather conditions. Data collected from the camera traps are shared with the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun for analysis, she said.

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Camera traps installed at: Singba Rhododendron Sanctuary, Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctury, Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary, Kitam Bird Sanctuary, Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary, Khangchendzonga National Park and Fambonlgo Wildlife Sanctuary. They are all Protected Areas.

How many: 262 in the first phase (2016-17); 200-plus in second phase (2018-19)

Placement: To efficiently carry out the camera trap survey, each of the Protected Areas was divided into 5×5 km grids with each grid serving as a sampling unit of the survey.

Result: The first batch of the camera traps (262 locations) has yielded 4,625 photographs among which 1,120 photo-captures were of wildlife and 924 of mammals. Among them, species level identification was possible for 34 species.

Target species: The survey emphasised on evidence detection and record of 16 species like snow leopard, golden cat, Tibetan wolf, Asiatic black bear, large Indian civet, blue sheep, musk dear, Himalayan Thar and Himalayan serow.

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