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article imageGood News: Tiger population increases by 30 percent in India

By Megan Hamilton     Jan 21, 2015 in Environment
Delhi - In a bit of good news, a study shows tiger numbers have risen sharply in India during the last seven years, from just 1,411 to 2,226, and for wildlife officials, that's something to celebrate.
The country is now home to 70 percent of the world's tigers.
That's according to Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, who was in Delhi on Tuesday to speak to journalists, BBC News reports.
The results of the census, he said, are a "huge success story."
"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," he said. "While the tiger population is falling in the world, it is rising in India. This is great news," he added.
He suggests that these successful tiger conservation practices could be implemented elsewhere. Javadekar even said India is willing to donate tiger cubs to the international community in order to play a crucial role in global tiger conservation.
To conduct the study, the researchers involved say they assessed the population of the big cats by using advanced technology, CNN reports.
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Facts About India
In India, Karnataka has the largest number of tigers at 406. Uttarakhand isn't far behind; it has 340 tigers, Tamil Nadu has 229, followed by Madhya Pradesh with 208. Maharashtra has 190 of the big cats and the Sundarbans in Bengal rounds out the list at 76 tigers, NDTV reports.
This latest census is reportedly the most accurate yet, and some 1,540 tigers have actually been photographed, NDTV reports here.
"We could capture 70 percent of the tigers individually in camera traps," says Rajesh Gopal, Member secretary, National Tiger Conservation Authority. "That is unique. Extrapolation based on scientific data has been very little this time."
The country has fought to stop the rapid decline of its big cat population due to poachers, international smuggling networks and habitat loss.
While the uptick in tiger numbers is encouraging, it's tragic to note that the population of these beautiful cats has plummeted from an estimated 100,000 tigers at the dawning of the 20th century. Most of the big cats were killed by poachers who sell the carcasses for use in traditional Chinese medicine.
India took swift action in 2004 after environmentalists discovered that not one single tiger could be found at the Sariska wildlife reserve in Rajasthan. The reserve is a top destination for people who wish to see the big cats. This was seen as the worst crisis in India's conservation history and led to an enormous drive, and as part of that, forest guards were armed at various reserves to fight poachers.
The rising tiger numbers were good news for Debbie Banks, head of the Tiger Campaign at the Environmental Investigation Agency. The agency conducts extensive research on the illegal tiger trade. Banks welcomed the news of the study and is looking forward to seeing the full report once it's released next March, she told CNN.
"I think it has set India apart from some of the other tiger range countries," she said. "If you look at China, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, there's more emphasis on tigers in captivity, farming and valuing tigers for their body parts higher than the survival of tigers in the wild."
The results of the study are encouraging, but this isn't a good time to become complacent, Banks said.
"While this is good news from India, I don't think anyone is sitting back and saying 'we've won.' The demand within China for skins to decorate homes and bones for tiger bone wine all continue. And so it's a constant battle."
It's going to be necessary to protect tiger populations once they begin to move into new areas.
"We must now gear up to manage the population that is dispersing out of these reserves," says Anish Andheria, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Trust. "Karnataka, Uttarakhand, and Madhya Pradesh will have to work to protect the tigers they have."
Another challenge?
The tiger trade is nothing if not sophisticated, and body parts of the big cat are often transported across unofficial borders--across mountains, for instance.
"The criminals have changed their practice," Banks said. "And there's no evidence of any enforcement there."
Historically, tigers are symbols of power and beauty in cultures such as India and China, and the significance of the tiger goes beyond its aesthetics, she added.
"Tigers are major indicators of the health of the environment, certainly the health of the forest that they inhabit. But they are the water gods, if you like. They are indicators of how well we are doing to conserve forests that provide water for millions of people and mitigate climate change. There's an ecosystem reason to save wild tigers."
Judging by the results of the study, Banks noted that it looks like India is doing just that.
"India, despite all the problems it has with high human population in small areas, is totally setting the benchmark for wild tiger conservation."
It's definitely a good start.
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