Pugmark-Heydays Tiger Tracking Method of Colonial India

Pugmark of tiger, Manas National Park 

Pugmark is the term used to refer to the footprint of most animals. 'Pug' means foot in Hindi. Every individual animal species has a distinct Pugmark which helps in their identification. 

Pugmark was an art that had once been perfected by professional trackers known as Shikaris (Hunters). Significantly, such Shikaris were maintained on the payrolls of the Indian Royalty and British Colonial rulers and had sole responsibility of providing their near magical skills during Shikars. Some master trackers were reputed to possess phenomenal capabilities and could follow the trail of tigers and other animals over ground that hardly registered the movement of any animal. A bent twig and upturned pebble was enough for them to follow a trail. They could even determine the sex, age, and size of a tiger from its pugmark as well as identify individual animal with a great deal of accuracy and ease.

This skills of trackers were not documented and practiced only as an art and not as science. The knowledge was either acquired through practical experience in the field or was passed down from to son. In 1934, a forest officer, J.W. Nicholson, of the Imperial Forest Service utilized one small aspect of the tracker's knowledge for counting tigers in the Palamau Forest division. This was first attempt to convert the art of identifying individual tigers into science.  

With the departure of the British and the collapsing privilege of the Indian princes, the trackers went into oblivion and their art was nearly lost. In the 1960s, an eminent forest officer of Orissa Saroj Rai Choudhury, revived the work of Nicholson related to identifying individual tiger from their pug impression and developed it into a technique for application in field of animal tracking (Sen,2005). 

Though tiger population is now estimated with camera trapping method in all tiger reserve of country but pugmark is a indirect evidence of animal presence. Field staff at Manas still record tiger pugmark whenever animal moves through over suitable locations.

Since most of the soft-padded four-toed pugmarks seen in the jungle to either the cat or dog family, it is important to understand their distinctive feature.

Generally, claw marks are visible in a dog's pugmark whereas in cats, unless they are walking over slippery or very steep ground or are startled, claw marks are not visible.

It is necessary to compare the ratio of the toe to pad size in both cases. Toes comparatively larger in dogs. Pads comparatively larger in cats .

A tiger paw consists of a pad and four toes. A fifth toe commonly called the dew claw, is placed high on the front limb only. Dew claw are retractable and are a part of the tiger's weaponry.Ordinarily, the dew claw does not touch the ground. The pad is 3-lobbed at the rear end.  

Excerpt from READING PUGMARKS, a pocket guide for forest guards by WWF Initiative.