Friday, April 1, 2011

India's tiger numbers increase for first time in a decade, says census

The number of tigers in India has risen for the first time in a decade, according to a new official census published in Delhi.

Campaigners and officials have hailed the news as proving that the big cat – which has suffered a 97% population decline in the past century – can still be saved.

The tiger, one of the most magnificent animals in the world, is also one
of the most endangered. A cat of beauty, strength, and majesty, the tiger is master of all and subject to none — except humans. Of the eight original subspecies of tigers, three have become extinct within the last 60 years; and there are less than 50 South China tigers left on this planet — few, and possibly none, survive in the wild.

There are five different kinds or subspecies of tiger alive in the world today. These tigers are called Siberian, South China, Indochinese, Bengal, and Sumatran. Their Latin name is Panthera tigris. Tigers are an endangered species; only about 5,000 to 7,400 tigers are left in the wild. Three tiger subspecies, the Bali, Javan, and Caspian tigers have become extinct in the past 70 years.

Poachers are continuing to exterminate the world’s remaining Tigers. New demand across Southeast Asia for the skins, teeth and claws of tigers is endangering much of the great cats, particularly the Sumatran tiger. Currently, the demand for Tiger parts is centered in several parts of Asia where there is a strong market for traditional medicines made from items like tiger bone and body parts. Volumes are sizeable and there has been little enforcement action against poachers and traders.

In India, many tigers continue to be killed by poachers or die as a result
of pressure on their natural habitats from the rapidly growing human population or environmental damaging caused by a lack of governance and the booming economy.

There are around 3,000 wild tigers in the world, of which around half live in India. The census, being published Monday, March 28th, is believed to put the total number of wild tigers in India at around 1,550 – 10% more than in 2008.

However, this may prove controversial because it has included the vast jungle and swamp areas of the Sunderbans (map at left), an estuary zone on the Bay of Bengal that had previously proved to difficult to properly survey.

Conservationists are also uncertain about the accuracy of the latest figures, claiming the methods used allowed the same tiger to be counted several times.

"A 10% increase is good news and very significant – but you can always fudge the figures if you want to, whatever counting method you use," MK Ranjitsinh, the chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India and one of India's best-known tiger campaigners, said.

In the 1970s, the Indian tiger population dropped to near 1,000. A major
effort to establish reserves and increase protection of the animals resulted in numbers trebling by the end of the 1990s.

Indian tigers are a major draw for tourists (left), and attempts are currently being made to repopulate national parks that have seen all their tigers die, many through poaching to supply the growing demand for traditional medicines in China.

But problems remain. Many villages are still either within reserves or close to them, and local people are frequently attacked while collecting wood or walking to their fields.

"The human population continues to grow and that means reduction of
prey, threats to the isolation of the tiger habitat and increasing danger of direct human-tiger conflict. We may have won a battle, but you have to win the war," Ranjitsinh (right) said.

The Guardian,"India's tiger numbers increase for first time in a decade, says census ",accessed March 28, 2011

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