India’s tiger count has gone up by more than 30 per cent in the past four years, according to a latest study on tiger population which was released on Tuesday. The study put the number at 2,226, up from 1,706 in 2010 when the last such tiger-counting exercise was undertaken.
Experts involved in the exercise said the steep rise in the number was more than what they had expected. “We all knew that the tiger numbers have gone up. But none of us had expected this kind of number. We were expecting the number to be around 1,900,” said Yadvendradev Jhala of the Wildlife Institute of India, one of the lead authors of the study that is the third edition of a four-yearly exercise aimed at assessing the state of tigers and their habitats in India.
The fresh numbers show a remarkable turnaround for tigers in India. In 2006, this same exercise, carried out by the same lead researchers, had revealed that tiger population in India had fallen to alarmingly low levels. That exercise had put the tiger number at 1,411. Until then, in the absence of any authentic scientific assessment, tiger population was highly over-estimated and believed to be 3,500.
A few years before that, it was revealed that Sariska tiger reserve in Rajasthan was left without even a single tiger. These scares had led to a number of initiatives to protect the tigers, the results of which have got reflected in the latest numbers.
“The Sariska debacle drastically changed the outlook of the government and the people towards tigers. Poaching was taken very seriously. Lot of money and effort was spent on protecting the tiger habitats. Attractive incentives were offered to people living in critical tiger areas to move out. It all has yielded dividends,” said Qamar Qureshi of the Wildlife Institute of India, who, like Jhala, has been involved with all the three tiger-counting exercises.
But increasing number of tigers, especially in areas where they were not found earlier, also call for new strategies to manage these. Both Jhala and Qureshi said India could well accommodate another about 1,000 tigers but needed to start preparing for living harmoniously with these.
“Some areas are already saturated. The Corbett area, the Sunderbans, or the Western Ghats which now has the highest concentration of tiger population anywhere in the world, and some other areas like the Tadoba reserve in Maharashtra are either saturated or very close to getting saturated. Tigers reproducing here are now moving to the surrounding forests through the tiger corridors which are functioning quite well,” Qureshi said.
But there are areas which can accommodate more tigers, like Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh, Sanjay-Dubri and Guru Ghasi Das areas in Chhattisgarh. The increase in numbers has also resulted in emergence of tigers in areas where they were not present earlier. The study has revealed that Goa now is the permanent home of 5-6 tigers.
Jhala said the rising numbers would also present greater threats in terms of human-tiger conflicts. “Tigers would move around and there will be greater interaction with human beings. Site-specific solutions would need to be found for such kind of problems,” he said.
One of the most important reasons being cited for the rise in numbers is that the tiger corridors, which the animals use for moving from one habitat to the other, have been functioning smoothly. Jhala said the next step in tiger conservation would be to designate these tiger corridors as ‘eco-sensitive’ areas so that when any industrial or infrastructure projects are carried out, the criticality of these areas for tigers is accounted for.