India’s wild tiger population has increased by 33% in the last four years

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Conservation efforts have given hope to the endangered species as the wild population has grown from 2,226 to 2,967 between 2014-2018, according to a new census report.

The four-year tiger census report, Status of Tigers in India, was released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Current figures show that this was the biggest increase in terms of both numbers and percentage since the census began in 2006. The number that year as 1,411, less than half of today’s numbers.

How were they counted?

The comprehensive survey was conducted by wildlife officials across 146,000 sq miles (380,000 sq km) of land and drew on data collected from almost 350,00 images taken by 26,000 camera traps in known tiger habitats. Tiger numbers are projected in a range – 2,967 is the mean of the estimated range of 2,603 to 3,346. The 2018 figure has a great degree of credibility because, according to the report, as many as 2,461 individual tigers (83% of the total) have actually been photographed. In 2014, only 1,540 individuals (69%) were photographed.

Why is a tiger census important?

Tigers sit at the top of the food chain, and their conservation is important to ensure the well-being of the forest ecosystem. The tiger estimation exercise includes habitat assessment and prey estimation. The numbers reflect the success or failure of conservation efforts. This is an especially important indicator in a fast-growing economy like India where the pressures of development often run counter to the demands of conservation.

The Global Tiger Forum, an international collaboration of tiger-bearing countries, has set a goal of doubling the count of wild tigers by 2022. More than 80% of the world’s wild tigers are in India, and it’s crucial to keep track of their numbers.

So, why have numbers increased?

The success owes a lot to increased vigilance and conservation efforts by the Forest Department as well as accuracy in reporting. The number of tiger reserves and protected areas have gone up since focused efforts began in 2006, extending protection to larger numbers of tigers over the years. Healthy increases in core area populations eventually lead to migrations to areas outside the core as well. Over the years, there has been increased focus on tigers even in the areas under the territorial and commercial forestry arms of Forest Departments. The brightest spot in the non-protected tiger-bearing areas is the Brahmapuri division of Chandrapur district of Maharashtra, which has more than 40 tigers.

Organised poaching rackets have been all but crushed. According to Nitin Desai of Wildlife Protection Society of India, there has been no organised poaching by traditional gangs in Central Indian landscapes since 2013.

The increased protection has encouraged tigers to breed. According to Wildlife Institute of India Director V B Mathur, tigers are fast breeders when conditions are conducive.