India says tiger numbers up, but expert raises doubts

Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com
March 28, 2011



According to the Indian government tigers have gone up by 225 individuals in the past four years, from 1,411 big cats to 1,636 today, a 16% increase. The new census, however, also counts 70 tigers in the Sundarbans, which were not included in the past census, making the new grand total 1,706 Bengal tigers (Panthera tigris tigris). But don't raise champagne glasses just yet, renowned conservationist with Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and tiger expert, Dr. Ullas Karanth, sees serious issues with the new tally, including a methodology that "has not been made public in a scientifically acceptable manner" and depends on a big count every few years instead of comprehensive and reliable year-by-year tracking methods. Despite such doubts, the news has generally been greeted with accolades.

"As seen from the results, recovery requires strong protection of core tiger areas and areas that link them, as well as effective management in the surrounding areas," Mike Baltzer, Head of WWF’s Tigers Alive Initiative, said in a press release. "With these two vital conservation ingredients, we can not only halt their decline, but ensure tigers make a strong and lasting comeback."

Yet Karanth says that "since various threats faced by tigers do not appear to have diminished in last four years, it is difficult to explain the claimed reversal of the decline of tigers," adding that, "to me the most serious flaw in the present government effort is the basic futility of trying to generate all-India level tiger counts once in 4 years, even while ignoring critical task of intensively monitoring key source populations year after year."

Karanth argues that India must go beyond its occasional census if it is to truly make tiger conservation a priority. He says India should use camera traps and DNA year round "so that we can track the fate of individual tigers, and estimate survival and recruitment rates to gauge how each of these populations is faring."

Even if tigers are rising in India, they are still likely declining worldwide. Habitat loss, deforestation, poaching, and a decline in prey species are threatening tigers from the Sundarbans to Sumatra to Siberia. Rough estimates puts the global population at somewhere between 3,000-5,000 individuals.

Karanth says that continuous monitoring in India "would not cost more" but would require the Indian government to give up its "monopoly" over tiger monitoring including bringing in "outside expertise and resources in order to ensure greater reliability, transparency and credibility in monitoring the fate of our national animal. "

In the past 100 years tiger populations have plunged around 95%, and three subspecies—the Bali, the Javan, and the Caspian—have gone extinct.













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CITATION:
Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (March 28, 2011).

India says tiger numbers up, but expert raises doubts.

http://news.mongabay.com/2011/0328-hance_india_tiger.html