For the first time in 100 years, the count of tigers in the world has shown an increase at around 3,890 tigers, up from an estimated 3,200 in 2010. The data is based on numbers compiled by national governments and conservation groups
Calling it the minimum number, the World Wildlife Fund attributed the good news to rising tiger populations in India, Russia, Nepal, and Bhutan besides improved surveys and enhanced protection of the species.
"This is a pivotal step in the recovery of one of the world's most endangered and iconic species," said Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of wildlife conservation at WWF. "Together with governments, local communities, philanthropists, and other NGOs, we've begun to reverse the trend in the century-long decline of tigers. But much more work and investment is needed if we are to reach our goal of doubling wild tiger numbers by 2022."
Experts however caution that the numbers could simply mean better survey methods and larger areas of survey, and not necessarily an increase in tiger population.
India which accounts for almost 70 percent of the global tiger population had recorded a 30 percent rise in the tiger population in its last census in 2014. The survey which employed many volunteers and groups and used more than 9700 cameras revealed at least 2,226 tigers as against the 1,706 in 2011. Similarly, Russia, Bhutan and Nepal also registered an increase in tigers.
However, the situation is grim in Southeast Asia, where poaching and rampant deforestation continue to impact tiger numbers. With no strong conservation efforts and a lack of leadership, the situation is worrisome. The forests of Cambodia which once housed hundreds of Indochinese tigers recently declared the tiger to be functionally extinct. This has been largely due to excessive human activities, weak enforcement of laws coupled with intensive illegal poaching.
"When you have high-level political commitments, it can make all the difference," Hemley said. "When you have well protected habitat and you control the poaching, tigers will recover. That's a pretty simple formula. We know it works."
Situation in India
Habitat protection is what Principal Chief Conservator of Forests in Karnataka, Vinay Luthra focused on when talking on how to save the tiger at a panel discussion organized by Hardnews Media and Aircel in Bangalore. Announcing the southern state has done lots in this area by widening the protected areas and linking corridors to address fragmentation of habitat, he noted that the state has largest number of tigers at more than 400 and so also biggest population of the country's elephants at more than 6000.
However, poaching has seen a sudden increase in the country this year. More than 10 tiger deaths this year alone (2016) show the gangs are active, according to a spokesperson of WTI at the meet. With illegal trafficking in wildlife trade pegged as high as $20 billion annually, second only to narcotics, the need for enforcement was highlighted by all the experts.
According to Uttara Mendiratta, Director Freeland India, which is tackling this wildlife trafficking, there has not been any perceptible growth in the tiger market. This could point to weak enforcement as the reason for the recent tiger deaths from across UP to Kerala.
Neglect of the needs of the frontline staff involved in protection of reserves was another area pointed to by scientist and member of Nature Conservation Foundation, Sanjay Gubbi. They need more than raincoats, he said, calling for policy changes that address the needs of this largely neglected lot.
In an attempt to revive its tiger population, the government of Cambodia plans to get two male tigers and five to six female tigers from another country and place them in a vast region of protected forests in the Eastern Plain Fields of Cambodia. Whether the scheme will work and if the nation can protect a new generation of tigers will depend on the leadership.
Following a 97% tiger population decline in 100 years, it was in 2010 that governments of the 13 tiger range countries -- Cambodia, Vietnam, Russia, Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, Indonesia, India, China, Bhutan, and Bangladesh-- decided to act towards doubling the numbers by 2022. The goal called Tx2 involves increasing protection, maintaining wildlife corridors and connectivity between areas and boosting resources and protection for where tigers can be in the future, when their numbers have increased.
The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation has worked with WWF and the nations towards this goal.
"Tigers are some of the most vital and beloved animals on Earth," said Leonardo DiCaprio, LDF chairman and WWF board member. "With our partners at WWF, my Foundation has supported major efforts to double the number of tigers in the wild. In Nepal, our efforts have produced one of the greatest areas of progress in tiger conservation, which is helping drive this global increase in population. I am so proud that our collective efforts have begun to make progress toward our goal, but there is still so much to be done. I am optimistic about what can be achieved when governments, communities, conservationists and private foundations like ours come together to tackle global challenges."
Termed a keystone species, tigers are crucial for the ecosystems in which they live. As top predators of the food chain, they keep populations of prey species in check, which in turn maintains the balance between herbivores and the vegetation upon which they feed. Besides, when nations protect tiger reserves, they indirectly are protecting all other species in the region.
Tigers are long-ranging and require vast amounts of habitat to survive with an adult male's home range varies from 150 km2 – 1000 km2. Under encroachment of forests by human habitations, this range is reduced and often fragmented leading to tigers straying out of their home range and resulting in human-animal conflicts.