A pair of tigers in Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in the Indian state of Maharashtra, which has seen healthy tiger gains in recent years. Via Flickr/Dr. Caesar Photography
Today is Global Tiger Day, a date that usually means writing yet another story about how much trouble the giant cats are in. And, really, the situation is dire: Tigers have lost around 93 percent of their historic range in the last 100 years, and there are now somewhere between 3,200 and 4,000 left in the wild, based on population estimates in the last few years. But, for once, there's also good news to share: New tigers censuses in India and Nepal both show population increases.
According to the WWF, Nepal's latest tiger census showed a population gain of 63 percent of 2009, with an estimated 198 tigers spotted this year. (The range, which accounts for doubles and undercounting, puts the population at between 163 and 235.) Those tigers were counted in the Terai Arc Landscape, a 12.3 million acre protected area in Nepal and India that's also home to Indian rhinos, Asian elephants, and hundreds of other endangered species.
Another census, this time conducted in the Indian state of Maharashtra, showed a growth of the average number of tigers in the region's reserves from 103 in 2006 to 168 in 2011. According to the Times of India, camera trap surveys found population increases in at least six other Indian states.
"This is primarily due to some measures taken by the various states. For instance, Maharashtra has declared five new tiger sanctuaries in last three years and brought 620 sq km area under legal cover," Kishor Rithe, a member of India's national board of wildlife, told the Times of India. "These new sanctuaries are in strategic locations for the breeding and safe dispersal of tigers. No other states have declared so many sanctuaries for the tigers. The government has also relocated over 17 villages from core areas of tiger sanctuaries."
A tigress with some cubs caught on a camera trap in Nepal's Chitwan National Park. Photo: Government of Nepal-DNPWC/WWF-Nepal
That tigers are coming back in parts of India and Nepal isn't too much of a surprise given how much work the countries have done in recent years to protect their tigers. For example, India's effort to connect a trio of reserves into one large ecosystem was a difficult undertaking that has huge benefits for habitat productivity. Big cats require an enormous amount of range, and while India's tiger tourism industry has provided incentives to protect tigers, it's also good to see a focus on protecting their habitat.
The story is the same in Nepal, where conservation efforts have been so productive that the country earlier this year announced plans to cap the growth of some endangered species, simply because there isn't more space to declare protected in the country.
From the outside, it seems like an easy calculation: Give tigers space to eat and other tigers to mingle with, and they'll make more. But in reality, it's not that easy. Tiger poaching remains a massive threat. In fact, with so much of tigers' historic range already gone, and much of what's left protected, poaching is likely the biggest threat the cats face.
And, of course, demand for tiger pelts and paws is centered in China, whose legal, hidden tiger farms have kept the industry afloat, and Vietnam, where tiger parts make excellent bribes. Still, as conservation groups push to double tiger populations by 2022—a goal known as TX2—it seems like conservation and anti-poaching efforts are having a positive effect. It's far too early to say that tigers are out of the figurative woods yet, but hey, it's not often that you get to celebrate some good tiger news.