Mar 29

Tiger numbers in India are increasing, according to a new government census released yesterday.

Photo of a Bengal tiger on territorial patrol
The new report indicates that the tiger population has increased by around 12% compared with the 2008 estimate.

The ‘All India Tiger Estimation Report’, which was released as part of the two-day International Conference on Tiger Conservation being held this week in Delhi, estimates the Indian tiger population to be around 1,636 individuals, compared to 1,411 tigers in 2008.

However, the new census also surveyed the Sunderbans – a vast area of swamp and jungle – which was not surveyed in 2008. It is thought to hold an average population of 70 tigers, pushing the total population of wild tigers in India to an estimated 1,706 individuals.

Photo of a Bengal tiger standing in lake

The latest estimate includes new areas not previously surveyed, including the Sunderbans, thought to hold an average population of 70 tigers.

Critics uncertain

But, despite the promising figures, critics say that more frequent surveys need to be done, using the latest techniques to make the data more relevant.

Tiger expert Dr. Ullas Karanth of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) cautions taking the new figures at face value, saying that “full details are not yet available on how these tiger numbers were obtained. It’s just not possible to give an expert opinion on them. Moreover, since various threats faced by tigers have not diminished in the last four years, it is difficult to explain the claimed reversal of the decline of tigers.”

The latest estimate of the tiger population in India uses field data collected by foot patrols, satellite data, and camera traps.

However, Dr Karanth highlights the need to shift to more intensive camera trapping and DNA monitoring of tiger source populations to track the fate of individual tigers, which will allow a better estimation of how populations are faring. “If we do not shift to such focused, intensive monitoring approaches, we are at serious risk of losing more and more key populations” says Karanth.

Photo of a Bengal tigress at rest

Tigers are not less threatened, but the population increase in India is seen as a step forward.

Welcome news

Azzedine Downes, Executive Vice President of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), welcomes the news of India’s apparent tiger population increase as a positive step in the right direction.

Despite this, he acknowledges that “This doesn’t mean that tigers in India, or in other range countries, are less threatened now, but it is definitely an indication that we have the ability to attain the global goal.”

The global tiger population is currently estimated to number between 3,000 and 5,000 individuals in the wild, with as many of half of these living in India.

A large and wide-ranging predator, the tiger faces a multitude of threats. Most of India’s breeding tiger populations are concentrated in a very small area of tiger habitat, which continues to become smaller and more fragmented as habitat is lost to agriculture, commercial logging and human settlement. Human-tiger conflict is also increasing, causing significant loss to wild tiger populations.

Read the IFAW press release.

Read the response of Dr Ullas Karanth to the latest population estimate.

View photos and videos of tigers on ARKive.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author