Kochi: India is home now to at least 3,167 tigers, as per the latest national tiger census summary report released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Mysuru, Karnataka, on Sunday, April 9.
This is around 6.7% higher than the estimate as per the last tiger census in 2018, which pegged tiger numbers at 2,967. India’s tiger numbers are increasing unlike in other tiger-range countries because people and wildlife have a long history of coexistence, said Modi, while releasing the report.
As per the report, while some areas like the Shivalik and Gangetic floodplains have recorded a “substantial” increase in minimum tiger populations, the Western Ghats landscape and northeastern hills have witnessed a decline. The report also highlighted the local extinction of tigers in some areas such as Kawal Tiger Reserve in Telangana.
Tiger numbers rise
As per the results of the 2022 tiger census – the fifth of its kind after tiger population monitoring efforts began in 2006 – India is home to a minimum estimate of 3,167 tigers.
This is a 6.74% increase from the previous census figures. The results of the fourth tiger census released in 2018 estimated tiger numbers in the country to be 2,967.
Some areas such as the forest divisions in the Shivalik hill range and Gangetic floodplains (spanning states including Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand) have shown an increase in tiger occupancy (the proportion of 100 sq km grids occupied by tigers), per the report – from 804 individuals being photographed as part of the 2022 census when compared to an estimated population of 646 in 2018.
The Central Indian and Eastern Ghats landscape is home to at least 1,161 tigers, also up from the last census (the estimate in 2018 was 1,033). Tiger occupancy in the Western Ghats landscape – spanning six states including Karnataka – declined from estimated 981 tigers in 2018 to only 824 unique tigers captured in photographs in 2022.
Though the last census estimated tiger numbers in the northeastern hills and Brahmaputra plains at 219 in 2018, the 2022 census photographed only 194 unique individuals in the region.
The report also mentioned how linear infrastructure projects in some areas (such as between eastern and western Rajaji National Park in Uttarakhand) are threatening connectivity, while some tiger populations have gone locally extinct (such as in Kawal Tiger Reserve in Telangana).
“Local extinctions of tiger populations were observed in Sirsi [in Karnataka], Kanyakumari and Srivilliputhur [in Tamil Nadu],” the report read. “Serious conservation efforts” are required to aid tiger population recovery in the states of Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh, the report noted.
The report released on Sunday, April 9, is only a summary report which provides only minimum population numbers. Full-fledged estimates, which take into account tiger signs prey and human presence, are still being conducted at the Wildlife Institute of India.
Largest effort so far
India estimates tiger numbers every four years, combining data from camera-trap-based surveys and sign surveys. In 2020, the 2018 census made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest camera-trapping exercise in the world.
According to the 2022 census report titled “Status of tigers 2022”, the fifth tiger population estimation effort is the largest conducted so far. More than 32,500 cameras were used for the exercise (compared to around 26,800 in 2018) across 20 states and generated 97,399 tiger photos, photographing 3,080 unique tiger individuals in the process. The total foot surveys spanned almost 6.5 lakh kilometers (when compared to 5.2 lakh in 2018).
The effort involved 6.4 lakh man-days in total for data collection and collation and is a collaborative exercise between the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) under the Union environment ministry, state forest departments, and scientists at the Wildlife Institute of India.
India plays a critical role in the survival of the species as it is home to an estimated 70% of the world’s tiger population. The species occurs in more than 15 states across the country, including Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Assam. The big cat – listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List due to range and population declines – is found across a range of natural habitats in India: from mangrove ecosystems in the Sundarbans of West Bengal to the arid scrub jungles of Rajasthan (which is part of the Central Indian landscape) and high-elevation rainforests in Tamil Nadu which are part of the Western Ghats landscape.
People, wildlife and coexistence
The release of the tiger census estimate was part of a three-day event from April 9 to 11 to mark 50 years of Project Tiger, a tiger conservation programme launched in 1973 that has led to the designation of several tiger reserves across the country, among others.
“The success of Project Tiger is a moment of pride not only for India but the entire world,” Modi said while releasing the report on Sunday.
India’s tiger numbers are increasing unlike in other tiger-range countries because people and wildlife have a long history of coexistence and many communities view tigers as their relatives and even brothers; many others worship them, said Modi, while releasing the report. India’s achievements in wildlife conservation are due to peoples’ efforts – “sabka prayas” – he added.
The Western Ghats is also home to a lot of tribal communities which have helped biodiversity including tigers prosper, Modi said. “Their lives and culture are ideal examples for the whole world, of giving back to nature as much as they took from it…we get to learn here, how this balance works in tribal traditions.”
The lifestyles of tribal communities also teach us how to understand the vision of Mission LiFE – Lifestyle for Environment – said Modi.
Union minister for environment, forest, and climate change, Bhupender Yadav, and Union minister of state, Ashwini Kumar Choubey, were present at the event along with officials from state forest departments and delegates from other tiger range countries.
PM launches international big cat alliance
The Prime Minister also launched the International Big Cats Alliance (IBCA), an international collaborative programme that aims to focus on the protection and conservation of seven major big cats of the world – the tiger, lion, leopard, snow Leopard, puma, jaguar and cheetah. Modi had, in July 2019, called for an alliance of global leaders to stem the demand for products that are part of the illegal wildlife trade to curb poaching in Asia, per a press release.
The Prime Minister also released a commemorative coin and publications about tiger conservation including a vision document for tiger conservation during “Amrit Kaal”.