The number of wild tigers has increased for the first time in over 100 years, in a massive boost for the iconic species. The latest survey released by the WWF ahead of a major tiger conservation meeting in India this week has shown there are now an estimated 3,890 of the cats roaming in the wild, up from a record low of 3,200 recorded in the last survey from 2010.
While the numbers of tigers counted in India, Russia, Nepal, and Bhutan have seen increases due in part to a ramp up in their protection and conservation efforts, some have warned against getting complacent. Even though the revised numbers show a jump in tigers, some conservationists are warning that this doesn’t necessarily mean that the overall count is actually rising, as the increase could be attributed to more accurate surveying methods in conjunction with new populations being discovered.
The report shows how the endangered cats are now “functionally extinct” – meaning that their numbers are so low that there is no hope of natural recovery – across many of the Southeast Asian countries where they used to roam, including China, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. In fact, it was only last week that the animals were declared extinct in Cambodia, where the last tiger was recorded on camera traps in 2007. The Cambodian government has, however, launched an action plan to try and reverse this by reintroducing tigers into the country’s dry forests, putting aside up to $50 million to get it done.
This is the first time the number of the big cats has risen since 1900, when more than 100,000 tigers still prowled the forests of Asia. Since then, their numbers have been steadily declining before hitting rock bottom in 2010. The recent reduction in the number of tigers is mainly attributed to the demand in the Far East for their body parts. From their hide to their penis, every part of the animals is used in some way in an attempt to boost status, sex drive, and/or health.
According to the organization TRAFFIC, which monitors the illegal trade in endangered species, between the years 2000 and 2014, a minimum of 1,590 dead tigers were seized by law enforcement. Despite this no doubt only representing the tip of the iceberg, the new figures give some promise that the fight against poachers, and the organized criminal gangs who run the illegal market, might actually be working.
“This offers us great hope and shows that we can save species and their habitats when governments, local communities and conservationists work together,” says the Director General of WWF International, Marco Lambertini, ahead of the 3rd Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation, which is taking place this week in New Delhi. In the 2010 Tiger Summit, which took place in Russia, governments agreed to the “Tx2” goal, which aims to double the number of wild tigers by 2022.
“A strong action plan for the next six years is vital,” explains Michael Baltzer, the leader of WWF Tx2 Tiger Initiative. “The global decline has been halted but there is still no safe place for tigers. Southeast Asia, in particular, is at imminent risk of losing its tigers if these governments do not take action immediately.”