A recent census reveals that India is now home to nearly 3,000 wild tigers, an increase of more than 30% since the last count was conducted four years ago. The latest figures were released on International Tiger Day (July 29) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who called the rise in numbers a "historic achievement" for India's big cat population.
According to the recent count, at least 2,967 wild tigers roam the country's dense jungles, up from 2,226 in the last survey. "We reaffirm our commitment towards protecting the tiger," Narendra Modi said as he released the report. "Some 15 years ago, there was serious concern about the decline in the population of tigers. It was a big challenge for us but with determination, we have achieved our goals."
Tiger numbers are tallied every for years in India and while early surveys were notoriously unreliable, recent counts are believed to be more robust. For the latest estimate, camera traps were set up in 26,760 locations across 139 study sites, a total area comprising 86% of the entire tiger range in India. During a 15-month period almost 35 million images were captured, including 76,523 photos of tigers. In inaccessible areas, robust models were used to estimate the numbers.
Computer programmes analysed the massive data set (believed to comprise the largest wildlife survey in the world) in order to individually identify each animal. Forestry and wildlife officials also walked much of the tiger terrain to make up a total survey area of 380,000 square kilometres (236,121 square miles).
"With around 3,000 tigers, India has emerged as of one of the biggest and safest habitats for them in the world," Modi said. "Nine years ago, it was decided in St. Petersburg (Russia) that the target of doubling the tiger population would be 2022. We, in India, completed this target four years in advance."
Of course, more tigers does mean an increased chance of conflict with the communities that live in tiger territory. While secure and established tiger populations in some parts of India have increased, smaller populations that live in isolation or on the fringes of prime big cat habitat have suffered losses. "This highlights the need for conservation efforts to focus on improving connectivity between isolated populations, while incentivising the relocation of people out of core tiger areas, reducing poaching and improving habitat to increase prey resources," write Matt Hayward, University of Newcastle Associate Professor and Joseph K. Bump, Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota.