Thanks to conservation efforts, India's threatened tiger population, once feared to be facing extinction, has increased in the last few years. Yet threats to their survival remain.
The latest census by India's environment and forests ministry claims there are now 1,706 tigers living in and around 39 reserves, national parks and protected forests throughout the country, compared to 1,411 in 2006.
The largest increases have been witnessed in the Corbett, Sariska and Kaziranga national parks. Relocated tigers from other parks have added to the population.
Better conservation methods
In 2009, the Panna Tiger Reserve in the central state of Madhya Pradesh did not have a single tiger left inside the protected area.
"Now, the tiger reserve has seven cubs and five adult tigers in its wild after the launch of an experiment involving breeding of translocated wild cats and rehabilitation of orphaned cubs," RS Murthy, the director of the tiger reserve, explained.
Similarly, villagers living near sanctuaries in the Sariska Reserve of Rajasthan have been asked to leave their homes and move to other places for a living in order to provide a safe natural habitat to raise the number of big cats.
"We are investing more effort in conservation. Now tigers are being flown to other sanctuaries to increase their numbers," wildlife film-maker S. Nallamuthu, told DW, adding, "This is encouraging." He recently received a cinematographer award for his film "Tiger Queen" shot in the Ranthambore sanctuary.
Poaching down but still a worry
Wildlife conservationists also pointed out tiger poaching dropped nearly 60 percent in 2011 as compared to the previous year, though it continues to pose a major threat to the survival of the cats.
"The tiger population is getting stable but there is no room for complacency," Tito Joseph, program director at the Wildlife Protection Society of India told DW.
One of the reasons why the tiger population appears to have increased, he said, is "also because some areas were left out in the last census because of problems accessing the terrain, like the Sunderbans, which is home to hundreds of tigers."
The Sundarbans National Park is a tiger reserve located in the Sundarbans delta in West Bengal. This region is densely covered by thick mangrove forests and is one of the largest reserves for the Bengal tiger.
In some reserves in south India, park authorities set up a special tiger protection force comprising armed commandos to be deployed to deter poachers from capturing and killing endangered tigers.
Tiger skins fetch anywhere around 11,000 - 21,000 US dollars and bones are sold for about 1,000 US dollars in China. Trafficking routes begin in India and end in China, where demand for tiger products, often for use in traditional medicine, is high.
But, as Tito Joseph pointed out, "the threat is not only from China but also from Southeast Asian countries."
While the tiger population seems to be stable and encouraging in some parts of India, a recent survey pointed out that a further danger remained. Human activity, for example, industrial or agricultural expansion, continues to envelop the tigers' territory.
In 1947, India was home to about 40,000 tigers, but poaching and shrinking habitats caused their numbers to drastically decrease. Nonetheless, over half the world's tiger population lives there, where efforts are on to ramp up those numbers.
Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Sarah Berning