India’s Tiger Population Increases for the First Time in a Century

Endangered Tiger

For the first time since the beginning of the 20th century, India’s population of tigers has actually increased.  Since 2007, the population of tigers residing in India has increased by 225 according to the results of the latest census released at the International Tiger Conservation Conference underway in New Delhi.

The Indian government estimates the tiger population to be at 1,706, up from 1,411 during the last count taken in 2007.  The only discrepancy with this number is that the new figure includes an additional tiger reserve, called Sundarbans, which contains 70 tigers and was not counted in the 2007 figure.  A considerable increase in the tiger population was found throughout India’s southern states, with Karnataka showing the highest figure of an estimated 320 tigers.

“These numbers give us hope for the future of tigers in the wild, and that India continues to play an integral role in the tiger’s recovery,” said World Wildlife Fund (WWF) International Director General Jim Leape.

Environment Minister of India, Jairam Ramesh, announced the new numbers on Monday at the opening of the conference.  According to him, close to 30 percent of the estimated tiger population is outside of India’s 39 tiger reserves.

India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority conducted the count with help from many key nongovernmental partners in the largest tiger population survey every taken.

At the turn of the 20th century, the worldwide population of tigers was estimated to be at more than 100,000.  Since that time, tiger’s have lost more than 94 percent of their home range and a devastating 97 percent of their total population, leading them to be place on the endangered species list by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 1969.

Dwindling numbers can be accredited to poaching, illegal trade, and habitat destruction, leading to a total world population of only 3,200 tigers today.  While all of these are still relevant problems, conflict with people has recently emerged as one of the major threats to tiger conservation, especially in India where half of the world’s remaining tigers reside.

Water Resources Minister of India, Salman Khurshid, said, “We came late on industrial revolution of our country, unlike western parts. We have many challenges to ensure that balance is maintained between development and environmental ecology. Tiger has become a national symbol, so we need to save tiger. Development and environment have to go together.”

At India’s invitation, representatives of the 13 tiger range countries met at the conference this week in collaboration with the Global Tiger Forum and the Global Tiger Initiative.  The participants include leaders from all 13 countries, scientist, and conservation organizations including the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Wildlife Trust of India.

Drawing heavily from India’s experience, the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP) was approved at the Tiger Summit held in St. Petersburg last November.  India’s experience is key due to its growing network of tiger reserves, proven methods for monitoring tiger numbers, and a publicly committed government.

The November summit set goals of doubling the worldwide population of tigers by the year 2022 through efforts funded by a projected $350 million over the next five years.  The GTRP is the first formalized international initiative to save the species from extinction.

“As seen from the results, recovery requires strong protection of core tiger areas and areas that link them, as well as effective management in the surrounding areas,” said Mike Baltzer, who heads WWF’s Tigers Alive Initiative. “With these two vital conservation ingredients, we can not only halt their decline, but ensure tigers make a strong and lasting comeback.”

“The good news is that we can save the tiger,” said Azzedine Downes, executive vice president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “To do so, the world community must find new ways of working together and the political will to translate talk into action. The global action plan’s goal to double the wild tiger population by 2022 is a positive step in that direction.”

Wild tigers currently reside in the countries of India, Russia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, and China.

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