India and Nepal are on track to hit 2022 targets of doubling their wild tiger population.
India’s wild tiger population has risen to 2,967, up from 2,226 four years ago, according to the latest official survey. Indian prime minister Shri Narendra Modi said the increase was a “historic achievement” thanks to conservation efforts.
India is home to more than 60% of the global wild tiger population
The census, which is carried out every four years, is based on information collected by wildlife officials across 146,000 sq miles (380,000 sq km) of land. It also draws on data from almost 350,000 images taken in known tiger habitats.
Around 3,000 tigers now recorded in India
Another bit of good news is that forest cover in India has grown over the last five years, along with an increase in the number of protected areas. In a statement, Modi said: “In our policies, in our economics, we have to change the conversation about conservation.” He added that it is possible to strike a healthy balance between development and environment.
The figures suggest that India is on track to hit the target set out in the St Petersburg Declaration in 2010, for which countries pledged to double their national wild tiger populations by 2022. At that time, India had an estimated 1,700 wild tigers.
Last year neighbouring Nepal announced a wild tiger population of 235, up from 121 in 2010.
However, the tigers are still at risk.
An analysis of another report, Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of Tiger Reserves 2018, also released on the same day by Modi, shows that at least half of India’s 50 tiger reserves are facing threats from linear infrastructure like roads, highways and railway lines.
At least 20% of India’s total tiger reserves are also threatened by invasive plant species such as Lantana camara, and about 20% of the reserves have unsustainable pressure from pilgrims visiting temples inside the tiger reserves, notes the report.
Focus on Eastern Ghats landscape
Though the report recorded an increased number of tigers across India, it also showed that there are several tiger reserves which could benefit from immediate conservation attention in improving their numbers even as some of the tiger reserves have achieved their optimal level.
Next steps – managing population and securing corridors
“Currently, the tiger corridors are not legally protected entities. A policy decision to protect these at the highest level is required,” said Y.V. Jhala of the Wildlife Institute of India. He also called for recognising efforts of tiger reserve staff who are doing a good job.
Echoing similar views, Ajay Dubey, a wildlife activist who works with a non-governmental organisation ‘Prayatna’, said, “the authorities need to focus on the security aspect now as poachers also know that which states have a good tiger population.”
“Madhya Pradesh needs to be more careful and responsible with tiger conservation so that history (of the poor population of tigers) is not repeated,” Dubey said.
For places where the tigers have not been recorded or the population has declined, the report called for restoration by improving protection, augmentation of prey, and reintroduction of tigers from an appropriate source.
“The decrease in numbers in states with large habitat patches is a cause of concern. States such as Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and northeast region haven’t seen much improvement or have shown declines. They have large habitat and a marginal increase in densities would show great results of which there is no evidence,” Milind Pariwakam, a wildlife biologist at the Wildlife Conservation Trust and a member of the IUCN Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group, told Mongabay-India.