Tiger numbers divide experts

World body’s claims that tiger numbers have risen to nearly 4,000 is ‘unreliable’, says scientist.

4, 741 is the projected global tiger population in 2022 should the current rate of increase in numbers be maintained. © dickysingh/iStock
4, 741 is the projected global tiger population in 2022 should the current rate of increase in numbers be maintained. © dickysingh/iStock

One of the world’s leading tiger scientists has cast doubt on new figures produced by the Global Tiger Forum (GTF) showing the global population of the big cat has risen to 3,890.

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Dr K Ullas Karanth, the director for science (Asia) for the Wildlife Conservation Society, said that some of the numbers cited in the report, published in partnership with WWF, were “generated by demonstrably flawed, statistical extrapolations” and were not reliable.

“Various country-wide, regional and landscape-level tiger numbers reported are not based on any estimates from intensive, rigorous camera-trap/DNA studies of source populations,” Karanth said.

“They are predominantly based on counts of tiger spoor [footprints] or, in some cases, simple guesswork.”

The new figure represents a 22 per cent increase in the tiger population from when the last global estimate was made in 2010.

The rise is due to “multiple factors, including increases in tiger populations in India, Russia, Nepal and Bhutan, improved surveys and enhanced protection,” say the GTF and WWF.

Karanth does accept that tigers are doing considerably better in India, which is now the key stronghold for the species and where about half of all tigers are found, thanks to 40 years of conservation work and considerable investment in creating and protecting reserves.

“Outside of India, there is no convincing data to show that tiger numbers have increased over much of South-East Asia and Russia,” Karanth said. “And countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Lao PDR and China have either entirely lost their tigers or are holding just a few individuals.”

Tiger range states agreed in 2010 to attempt to double tiger numbers to 6,400 by 2022. “A strong action plan for the next six years is vital,” said WWF’s tiger-initiative leader Michael Baltzer. “The decline has been halted but there is still no safe place for tigers.”

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