The recently released report on the status of tigers in the country revealed that the number of tigers in India increased by 74% between 2010 and 2018 and by more than 33% between 2014 & 2018. It has to be noted that certain methodological changes may also have contributed to the increase in numbers.
In the pristine forests of the Indian sub-continent roams the majestic cat having survived the anthropogenic pressure inflicted upon it and its habitat. The Government of India recently released the fourth quadrennial report on the status of tigers in India. The results of the largest biodiversity survey carried out in the world revealed that the population of tigers has increased. The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in collaboration with the State Forest Departments, Conservation NGOs and Wildlife Institute of India conducts this survey every four years. This study is significant since it helps in identifying the areas that have been successful in conservation efforts and those which need to be focused on while drafting policies. In this story, we look at the population of tigers in India and how the numbers have changed over the years.
The Survey Methodology has changed in 2018
As per the information provided in the report, the estimation of tiger population has been carried out in three phases. The first phase involved data collection of different components such as carnivore sign encounters, tiger prey abundance, vegetation, human interference and dung counts. This data was collected digitally in an application M-STrIPES. Phase two of data collection involved remote sensing to identify wildlife population and also have a look into the habitat characteristics. Phase three made use of camera traps. The 2018 data has been lauded since 83% of the tiger population was individually camera trapped. However, there are other methodological changes in 2018 that may have contributed to the increased number of tigers.
The estimate of tiger population may not be accurate owing to the limitations in counting the highly secretive carnivore. The survey provided the range of tiger numbers i.e., the number of tigers could be between 2,603 and 3,346. In other words, the survey data has a possible error of 14% and the estimated number can be 14% more or less than what has been mentioned as the mean, 2,967 tigers. Similarly, for each of the regions and states, the report mentions the range of the number of tigers.
Another important point to be noted is the difference in age used for the tiger census. For the 2018 census, all tigers above the age of one (> 1) have been included while in the previous 2014 census, only those above 1.5 years of age (> 1.5) have been included. In all the previous surveys (2010 & 2006), the census considered those tigers above 1.5 years of age (> 1.5). This change may also have contributed to the increase in tiger numbers.
The 2018 census covered an area of 3.81 Lakh square kilometres across 20 states (includingNagaland and Telangana) with 26,838 camera trap locations while the 2014 census covered an area of 3.78 lakh square kilometres in the 18 tiger states with 9735 camera trap locations.
Note: The number of tigers used in the following analysis is the mean in each case as mentioned in the report.
Population of tigers has more than doubled in a dozen years in India
With around 3900 tigers remaining across the globe, India is home to the largest tiger population in the world- about 75% of them. The total number of tigers in India has risen from a mere 1411 in 2006, to 1706 in 2010, 2226 in 2014 and has now reached 2967 in 2018. The growth rate of the population has been 20.9% in 2010, 30.4% in 2014 and 33.3% in 2018. The number has more than doubled between 2006 & 2018 and has increased by more than 70% between 2010 & 2018.
Madhya Pradesh registers the largest increase in the number of Tigers
Based on the landscape and in order to make the estimation of tiger population pragmatic (since tigers keep moving within forests and are not restricted to any one state), India’s states have been classified into five different regions. Starting from the North, Shivalik hills and Gangetic plains landscape includes the states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Bihar. The states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Mizoram and Northern West Bengal comprise the North East Hills and Brahmaputra Plains landscape. The mangrove forest of Sunderbans which lies in the southern part of West Bengal is considered a separate landscape. Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Odisha together constitute the Central Indian landscape and the Eastern Ghats. Western Ghats include the south Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Goa.
State wise data shows that there has been a remarkable increase in number of tigers in Madhya Pradesh, almost by 71% or an increase by 218 tigers in the four year period 2014-2018. In Maharashtra, tiger population has increased from 190 to 312 during the same period. The number of tigers in Karnataka and Uttarakhand has increased by 118 (29%) and 102 (30%) respectively during this period.
35% of the total Tiger population of India has been found to be living in the Central Indian landscape
If one looks at the region wise distribution of India’s tiger population, each of the landscape has witnessed an increase in the number of tigers in 2018 compared to the previous survey in 2014. The largest population of tigers has been found to be in the forests of Central India and Eastern Ghats- 1033 tigers which is almost 35% of the total tiger population in India. The lush green forests of Western Ghats is home to 981 tigers (33% of all the tigers in India). The Shivalik hills landscapes, followed by the North Eastern landscape are home to 646 and 219 tigers respectively as per the 2018 report. There are 88 tigers in the Sunderbans.
The Central Indian landscape witnessed 50% increase in the tiger population in 4 years
Considering the growth rate of the number of tigers, the Central Indian landscape has witnessed an increase in the population by 50%. Shivalik hills and Gangetic plains also witnessed a 33% increase in tiger population. The increase in the case of Western Ghats was 26.4%. The tiger population growth rate in the North Eastern hills and Sunderbans was found out to be 9% and 16% respectively.
Multiple threats put the Tiger in a vulnerable position
Tigers are a flagship species for conservation since their role as the top predator plays a vital role in determining the health of the ecosystem. Being prolific hunters with their distinctive coat as camouflage, tigers require sufficient space and preys in order to contain long term viable populations. Thus, tigers also act as umbrella species which leads to the conservation of other species. Global warming and climate change which are beyond human control too have a severe impact. According to the IUCN Red List, tigers are in the endangered list of animals.
Fragmentation of habitat, degradation of forests, poaching, and retaliatory killings are some of the threats that put tigers in a vulnerable position. To address these issues, Project Tiger was started by the government of India in 1973 to promote the conservation of tigers across the country. The project was later converted into a statutory authority called the National Tiger Conservation Authority in 2006 through the amendment to the Wildlife Protect Act.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 15: Life on Land stresses on sustainable management of forests, curb biodiversity loss and reverse land degradation. Prevention of threatened species from extinction and taking urgent action to put an end to wildlife trafficking are two important targets of the goal. An increase in tiger population by almost 74% between 2010-2018 is a step in the right direction.
Featured Image: Tiger population in India