AboutZoos, Since 2008


Recent Indian tiger cen­sus: more tigers now than in 2007!

pub­lished 23 April 2011 | mod­i­fied 21 April 2012

The Indian government’s lat­est fig­ures, that were released to mark the open­ing of the Inter­na­tional Tiger Con­ser­va­tion Con­fer­ence in Delhi, show that wild tiger num­bers across the coun­try are now cal­cu­lated to be 1,706 (i.e. rang­ing between a min­i­mum of 1,571 to a max­i­mum of 1,875), an increase of almost 300 the last tiger cen­sus in 2007. The ques­tion is if this fig­ure should give us hope for the future of Indian tigers, and what is more, hope for global tiger pop­u­la­tion as it is esti­mated that around half the world’s tiger pop­u­la­tion can be found in India.

The num­bers sound promis­ing, but there are some issues that must be taken into account while assess­ing these num­bers. Firstly, the updated fig­ures incor­po­rate a num­ber of areas not pre­vi­ously sur­veyed. For exam­ple, the Sun­dar­bans region (home to 70 tigers) was included in the count this time. Sec­ondly, some areas out­side of national parks have been sur­veyed more inten­sively than before, such as the Moyar Val­ley and Sigur Plateau in South­west India’s West­ern Ghats Com­plex, and the Ram­na­gar For­est Reserve out­side Cor­bett National Park. Thirdly, despite an over­all increase some pop­u­la­tions have decreased. And last but not least the wildlife experts who con­ducted the cen­sus said tiger habi­tats and cor­ri­dors, which are the routes fre­quently used by the big cats to move from one reserve to another, had declined sharply, by 22 per cent, as huge power projects, min­ing and roads cut into their habi­tats. With a steady increase of the human pop­u­la­tion on the Indian sub­con­ti­nent this is not likely to improve, and it is expected to increase tiger-​human conflicts.

Con­sid­er­ing these issues ques­tions have been raised, such as where did the 200-​odd tigers of Sun­der­bans van­ish (70 tigers accord­ing the lat­est sur­vey)? As the West Ben­gal Gov­ern­ment kept claim­ing a steady fig­ure of 275 tigers over the last decade. Such con­crete proof of loss of tiger num­bers, should raise eye­brows. The reli­a­bil­ity of the cen­sus and the government’s abil­ity to fur­ther pro­tect tiger habi­tats is ques­tioned by sev­eral renown tiger scientists/​conservationists like Ullas Karanth, Belinda Wright and Valmik Thapar.

The tech­niques used to estab­lish the num­ber of tigers via mod­el­ling and extrap­o­la­tion using the actu­ally cam­era trapped ani­mals, other tiger signs, prey species, and human pres­ence are ques­tion­able, as it always will be a dubi­ous exer­cise in a large coun­try like India. Another tech­nique used dur­ing the sur­vey, the DNA analy­sis of tiger fae­ces for indi­vid­ual iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, has also raised ques­tions. The ana­lyt­i­cal con­sis­tency and replic­a­bil­ity in mul­ti­ple loca­tions that is needed, together with collector’s bias makes such a tech­nique dif­fi­cult to use for a nation-​wide study such as an annual all-​India Tiger cen­sus. Valmik Tha­par chal­lenges the government’s inef­fi­ciency in estab­lish­ing the Tiger Task Force which has received a sanc­tion of over Rs 350 crore (about 5 mil­lion Euros) in 2005 to reha­bil­i­tate vil­lages out­side tiger reserves and con­sol­i­date the tiger’s future.

Envi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Jairam Ramesh called the increase good news but cau­tioned against any com­pla­cency in efforts to save the iconic ani­mal from extinc­tion. He con­fessed that pro­tect­ing India’s forests and its crea­tures is going to be chal­leng­ing, because of the 9 per cent population’s growth rate. The energy demands of the bur­geon­ing human pop­u­la­tion are huge, which lead to habitat-​threatening projects such as the inter­link­ing of rivers for hydro-​power plant construction.

(Source: WWF, 31.03.2011; National Tiger Con­ser­va­tion Author­ity; web­site MID-​DAY, 03.04.2011; Wildlife Pro­tec­tion Soci­ety of India)

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