Excellent news on Global Tiger Day: the latest national tiger census says India has 2,967 tigers – double that counted by the first national census conducted in 2008 with a new scientific methodology created by the Wildlife institute of India.
Before that, a completely unscientific pugmark count method was employed and the figures were regularly fudged. At the first scientific national census in 2006, alarm bells were ringing as tiger numbers were at 1,411, the lowest experts said it had been in decades. Two of India’s big project tiger parks, Sariska and Panna, had lost all their tigers and poaching and habitat loss was a problem. Since then, Panna has bounced back with over 30 tigers while Sariska has some now too.
As India is the largest range state for the tiger today, an increase in its numbers is a huge and positive step for the world. This also puts India on a positive track for 2022, the Year of the Tiger, by when the 13 tiger countries have promised to double their tiger numbers. This promise was made in 2010 under the Global Tiger Recovery Program. While 2022 might not see global tiger numbers doubled, tiger numbers in India, Nepal and Bangladesh have increased.
The national census covered an area of nearly 4 lakh square km across the country. Of this, nearly 1.3 lakh square km, was covered by camera traps. To date, 2,500 individual tigers have been camera-trapped; the rest are estimated through habitat analysis, prey availability, direct sightings and indirect sightings.
The census is an enormous undertaking and this time, even the North East states were covered quite extensively
While what India has accomplished is commendable and to be celebrated, questions are inevitable. On a state-wise break up of numbers, it seems improbable that Madhya Pradesh, for example, could have had a nearly 70% increase in tiger numbers in just the last five years with numbers growing from 308 to 526, while habitats have not really increased. Madhya Pradesh in this census list is the state with the most number of tigers reclaiming the crown from Karnataka, which is now in second place with 406 tigers. The Western Ghats in their entirety, however, hold close to 776 tigers, and this shows the importance of contiguous forests tracts. Maharashtra is another state with major gains. Numbers have jumped from 190 tigers to 312 tigers. Tamil Nadu on the other hand has only gone up by 35 tigers.
It is also important to note that states like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have shown a decrease in numbers. These are the states that face huge mining lobbies. Andhra Pradesh has also shown a decline, standing only at about 48 tigers, 20 less than five years ago. This is alarming as Andhra has the largest tiger park in the country, Nagarjunsagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve. The Telengana forest department has just opposed mining for uranium in their maiden tiger reserve, Amrabad. The Ministry for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, however, has given a go-ahead.
The North East has grown from 100 tigers to 219 since 2008. The most exciting discovery was that of tigers in the snow in the highest reaches of the Dibang Valley at 11,000 feet in Arunachal Pradesh in the camera trap set up by researchers in December 2018. This was a previously unknown population to the scientific world, whereas the local Idu Mishmi people were always aware the tigers were there, highlighting the need to work with local and indigenous communities.