06 Apr

India’s Tiger Population Estimates

Tiger in Grass

The recent tiger estimates to come from the Government of India, released on the 28th March, put the current Indian wild tiger population at 1,706 adults (including 70 from the Sundarbans bordering Bangladesh). These numbers have been making headlines, as they indicate a 16% increase in India's overall tiger population since the 2007 estimates of 1,411 individuals. Significant resources (money and manpower) have been put into these recent efforts, which need to be applauded. However, celebration of a rising tiger population should be tempered. As one of India’s most renowned tiger biologists, Dr. Ullas Karanth was quick to point out, the methodology that underpins these estimates has yet to be adequately described, making it difficult to be confident in the estimates. Any uncertainty surrounding the derivation of these estimates is compounded by the known severe decline in the area occupied by India's tigers, especially outside of protected areas. Overall, there is mounting evidence that India's remaining tiger populations are increasingly threatened by poaching and habitat loss which has not been reduced in the past few years, making it seem unlikely that these latest tiger numbers are reliable evidence of population growth. Ultimately, to be truly confident in the status of India's tigers (or the tiger populations of any other tiger range country), it is necessary to monitor and protect the important breeding populations, often referred to as source populations, annually, and in considerable detail. It is these source populations that underwrite the long term survival of tigers in the wild and they must be the focus of protection and monitoring efforts, which is the foundation of Panthera’s Tigers Forever program. India has plans to adopt this form of intensive population monitoring and it will be a great step forward, and cause for celebration, when this takes place in the very near future.