An assessment on the state of tigers in India was released this week at the International Conference on Tiger Conservation. The census, carried out in 39 designated tiger reserves all over the country, estimates the Bengal tiger population has increased from 1,411 in 2007 to 1,706 today. India is home to more than half of the world’s tigers.
However, the tiger population in the Sundarbans mangrove region was included for the first time, skewering the numbers a bit, adding an additional 70 tigers not registered in the last count.
India’s Minister of the Environment, Jairam Ramesh was encouraged by the numbers but warned that “The threat from poachers, international smuggling networks and powerful mining companies continue to pose threat to the endangered animal.”
Ramesh also noted that preserving corridors is critical, stating “We have 39 reserves and about 30% of our total tiger population is outside these reserves.” He urged India to not become complacent, as “…the shrinking of tiger corridors is alarming.”
And tiger habitat is indeed shrinking. World Wildlife Fund noted an alarming decline in tiger occupancy from 36,139 to 28,108 square miles outside of protected areas. It also highlighted an increase in human-tiger conflict around tiger reserves, with more human presence in places such as Corbett, Ranthambore and Bandhavgarh national parks.
Despite the reported increase, until poaching and habitat loss is contained, tigers face a challenging future. Belinda Wright, executive Director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, has stated that “The problems are: poaching, lack of protection and good enforcement, lack of convictions in the courts, low prey density and poaching of prey species, habitat encroachment, human-related disturbances, human-tiger conflict, no accountability for park managers, and lack of political support to implement recommendations. Also, at least six tiger reserves are severely affected by [political] insurgents.”
Fortunately, tigers have Leonardo di Caprio on their side. At the last international conference on tigers, held in November 2010 in St. Petersburg, the movie star donated $1 million to tiger conservation and joined with World Wildlife Fund on the Save Tigers Now campaign. The goal is to build support – financial, political, and public – and double the number of tigers by 2022.
Education is key to protecting endangered species. People need to learn to respect wildlife and find ways to live together. And of course we need to stop decimating/degrading natural habitats. Tigers numbered more than 100,000 at the turn of the last century and have lost more than 97 percent of their population and 94 percent of their home range in just 100 years. Let’s hope the tigers making a roaring comeback.