India’s tiger population has risen from 1,706 individuals to 2,226 over the past four years, officials reported yesterday. With estimates last year that the global wild population is teetering just over 3,000 individuals, an increase like this crucial for the survival of this beleaguered species.
This four-year increase is part of an even longer-term upwards trend - the population was at 1,411 individuals in 2007, which represents an increase of 60 percent over the past seven years.
"While the tiger population is falling in the world, it is rising in India,” Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar told journalists in New Delhi yesterday. “This is great news.”
The growth of the poaching industry over the past hundred years has seen the world's wild tiger population drop from around 100,000 individuals spread over 30 nations during the early 20th century to a mere 3,000, confined to 11 countries, only eight of which contain breeding pairs. Wild tigers now appear in just 7 percent of their former global range, and over the past 80 years, three subspecies - the Javan, Caspian, and Bali tigers - have gone extinct.
There’s a whole lot to be concerned about when it comes to wild tigers, but the good news coming out of India is that conservation efforts can actually work, but to do so, they need the whole-hearted support (and finances) of local governments.
While the details of India’s conversation program are yet to be published - likely next month in the upcoming government report entitled Status of Tigers in India, 2014 - Brian Clark Howard at National Geographic says the biggest gains for the country’s wild population have been large, protected parks. Severe penalties for poaching - some regions around the country have declared it legal for poachers to be shot and killed on sight - and more sophisticated tracking methods have also contributed to India’s conservation success. They’ve reportedly installed a network of 9,700 cameras throughout known tiger habitats, and they’re now using a more scientific method of identifying each individual they find.
"India has had trouble reporting on its tigers in the past because game managers relied on outdated methods of tracking, such as looking at footprints,” says Howard. "But over the past few years, those managers have upgraded to using camera traps to record tigers and to identify them individually based on their unique stripe patterns, which are akin to human fingerprints.”
Another major threat to the wild tiger population is a loss of habitat due to the continued expansion of the local human populations, which is something that the Indian government has had to deal with very sensitively.
“[it] raises the thorny political issue of whether villagers or tigers should be given priority over reserved land. Indian officials have confronted this problem by investing millions of rupees into compensating settlers who agree to clear out of key tiger habitats. 'It is a long-drawn process because the villagers have to agree to move out,' said forest conservation chief PS Somasekhar in a 2012 BBC article. 'We can't force them to leave. We can only persuade.’”
Ferreira says that the success of this relocation program has seen entire villages abandoned to make way for wild tiger reserves. It’s a big cost to the locals who had made their homes there, but the real growth seen in India's wild tiger population today has undeniably justifed the move.
Here's the announcement:
And as a testament to what a single, determined individual can do, a man named Jadav Payeng has single-handedly built a 550-hectare forest on Majuli Island in northeast India, which happens to be home to population of wild Indian tigers. Incredible.