Releasing results of the 2018 census on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India was now “one of the biggest and most secure habitats of the tiger.” India estimates that over 75 percent of the world’s tiger population now resides in the country.
All but three states with tigers registered an increase. The highest number of tigers is in Madhya Pradesh in central India, which has 526. The tiger is India’s national animal.
Ravi Singh, chief executive of WWF-India, called these estimates “encouraging” and said that given the “immense pressure on India’s biodiversity,” the numbers speak to the commitment of the government, local communities and citizens of India.
India’s tiger conservation efforts began in the 1970s, aimed at protecting tigers from extinction. It also passed a wildlife act that criminalized capturing and killing wild animals. Now, 50 tiger reserves cover about 2 percent of the country’s geographical area.
India has also provided incentives to relocate villages away from tiger reserves.
Wildlife groups say that in the past 100 years, the global tiger population has dropped by 97 percent. In 2010, an agreement between 13 tiger range countries had aimed to double their populations by 2022. India achieved its target four years ahead of time.
But a lot more needs to be done, experts say.
“Right now, we have several infrastructure projects and highways going through tiger reserves, putting their future in jeopardy,” wildlife conservationist Prerna Singh Bindra said. “Going forward, we need to hold tiger habitats sacrosanct, improve vigilance and protection in reserves and formulate strategies to address conflict, including by working together with people who live in close proximity to the tiger.”
Last week, a crowd of villagers in northern India beat a female tiger to death with sticks and spears after she reportedly attacked and injured a man in a national tiger reserve.
India’s tiger census, conducted every four years, is a mammoth exercise that the country says is the world’s largest wildlife survey. India spent $1.4 million surveying less than half a million square kilometers of forest land. More than 40,000 people were part of the exercise.