Why India's tiger population rebounded 30 percent

India, home to 70 percent of the world's tigers, saw a notable increase in the tiger population in the last three years. Why?

Joydip Kundu/AP/File
A Royal Bengal tiger prowls in Sunderbans, at the Sunderban delta, about 130 kilometers (81 miles) south of Calcutta, India. India's latest tiger census shows a sharp increase in the number of endangered cats in the wild, raising hopes that conservation efforts are working.

India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests reported today that the population of tigers in India has increased 30 percent in the last three years – a remarkable recovery for a severely endangered species.

"While the tiger population is falling in the world, it is rising in India. This is great news,” said Prakash Javadekar, the environment minister of India.  

India is home to 70 percent of the world’s tiger population. In 2011, India had only 1,706 tigers, but by the end of 2014 there were 2,226, according to the tiger census taken every three years by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). In 2008, the census recorded 1,411 tigers, a historic low.

The big cats census is taken by using camera traps, which are equipped with an electronic switch to record animals that walk in front of the camera.

"Never before has such an exercise been taken on such a massive scale where we have unique photographs of 80 percent of India's tigers," Javadekar, said.

The increase in the tiger population is a result of the Indian government’s initiative to "streamline tiger conservation" through efforts to control poaching, manage the forests. and minimize human-animal encroachment and conflict. A full report about India's tiger conservation efforts is expected in March.

Environmental minister Javadekar, suggested that these same methods should be adopted by the international community, as there are six different species of tigers on the World Wildlife Foundation’s endangered species list. Javadekar also offered to donate tiger cubs to help foster healthy tiger populations across the globe.

While the Indian government credited it's own initiatives for the tiger population recovery, poaching in India is not diminishing. But in fact, of the 274 tiger deaths in the last four years, 192 of them have been from poaching rather than natural causes, according to reports from Indian science magazine Down-To-Earth. This number is higher than usual according to Javadekar.

However, S. P. Yadav, deputy inspector general with the NTCA, said these figures are unlikely to have an effect on the total tiger population.

“Here, we are not taking tiger births into account. An adult tigress can give birth to younger ones every 90 days. If of 4-5 litters that a tigress gives birth to, even 1-2 survive, these numbers can be compensated,” Yadav told Down-To-Earth magazine.

While poaching is primarily a problem with elephants and tigers, many endangered animals also suffer from illegal wildlife trade.

But the main threats to endangered animals are environmental problems and human encroachment, including pollution, deforestation, and fossil-fuel drilling. The fact that a species can show progress in the second-most populous nation on the planet offers some hope for other endangered species.

"India, despite all the problems it has with high human population in small areas, is totally setting the benchmark for wild tiger conservation," Debbie Banks, head of the Tiger Campaign at the Environmental Investigation Agency told CNN.

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