The Government of India has just released (on 21st January) the 'preliminary' findings on the 'Status of Tigers in India in 2014'. These new figures are proclaiming that the country's tiger populations have risen by 30% in the past 4 years! Time to celebrate?
"Easy tiger" - a note of caution.
Evaluating tiger numbers accurately is notoriously difficult and methods are still evolving and being refined. Any comparison of recent data with previous estimates is fraught with danger. These new figures are reputedly based on a combination of camera trapping and DNA analysis (from scats), where as previous estimates were based on alternative methods like pug-mark counts etc. There is no way of knowing how accurate any estimates actually are, old or new. Add to this, the tendency to inflate or exaggerate figures for political expediency and the water's become even more murky. To take at face value, and as genuine, a rise of 520 animals since 2011 (1706 to 2226) requires rather a large leap of faith.
It is indeed encouraging news if the tiger's population trend is upwards as these figures suggest, and if their protection in India has improved to facilitate this. However, there is still no question that wild tigers in India, and all other locations with their range, remain precarious and vulnerable with poaching for the illegal Asian medicine and skins trades, and habitat loss and fragmentation continuing to be grave and omnipresent threats.
The final report will not be published by the Government of India until March 2015. Will actual tiger numbers have gone up or down by then?