Thanks to sustained conservation efforts, the tiger population in the country has risen to 1706 compared with 1411 in 2006, a 12 per cent increase that excludes the big cats of Sundarbans, the latest Tiger Census said on Monday. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh, who released the All India Tiger Estimation Exercise for 2010, said that "the mid-point range" of tigers in the country is 1706. The previous census in 2006 did not cover Sundarbans. "
"That is why I am comparing 2006 and 2010. When you compare the like with the like, 1411 in 2006 increases to 1636 in 2010. But if you include 70 estimated population in Sundarban, the total estimated population -- there is a lower limit and there is an upper limit -- the mid-point range is 1706 tigers," he said.
Ramesh said when the Sundarban figure is excluded, the total estimated tiger population figure stands at 1636. "This figure at 1636 is a 12 per cent increase of 1411 and is welcome news," Ramesh said. Admitting that there have been higher than normal tiger mortality figures in 2009 and 2010, he said, "Tiger mortality is headlines. But when it comes to tiger fertility, nobody bothers about it. And remember, this camera trap method has captured 615 photographs of tigers which are more than one-and-a-half years old," Ramesh said.
He said tiger occupancy has fallen in tiger reserves in Central India especially in northern Andhra Pradesh and in part of Madhya Pradesh corridor. "The most positive news has been reported from Naxal-affected Nagarjuna Sagar Tiger Reserve in Andhra Pradesh. We have estimated the number of tigers there to be 60," he said.
He added that there is positive news from other Naxal-affected reserves including Indravati (Chattisgarh), Simlipal (Orissa), Valmiki (Bihar), Palamau (Jharkhand). The census, which was the most comprehensive and scientifically conducted exercise so far, used cameras installed at strategic points like water bodies in forests, as also in respective territories of big cats.
Computers were used to analyse and collate the data. The 2006 Census had shown a sharp fall in the number of tigers in protected areas -- reserves, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries -- in 19 states across the country.
Earlier, addressing the gathering, Ramesh said, "Close to 30 per cent of the estimated tiger population is outside the 39 tiger reserves. We spend all our time and energy on the 39 tiger reserves. We don't yet have a complete strategy to deal with that."
The minister also said the tiger corridors in the country are under threat. "There is a decrease in the tiger occupancy area, which means the tiger corridors are under severe threat. That is the single biggest negative headline from this exercise," he said.
Later, talking to mediapersons, Ramesh said the Terai belt between the Himalayan foothills and the Indo-Gangetic Plain of the Ganga, Brahmaputra and their tributaries and South India have shown very good results last year in tiger conservation. He, however, said the numbers in northeast and Central India are worrisome.
"The tiger occupancy in northern Andhra Pradesh and Central India has gone down. Maharashtra has done well. Today, you will find the single largest concentration of tigers in the world in the triangle of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka," he said.
On the first census exercise done in Sundarbans, the minister said the environment ministry's estimate on tiger population in the area is far more realistic than the West Bengal government's. "The state government's estimate is 200. Our estimate is far more realistic. It is based on scientific methods. I think the single biggest challenge in 2010 has been Sundarbans," Ramesh said.
He added that some tiger reserves such as Corbett (Uttarakhand) and Ranthambore (Rajasthan) have reached the top end of their capacity for tigers. "In the tiger reserves of northeast, we are, in fact much below the carrying capacity," the minister said.
The census was released at the inaugural session of the three-day International Tiger Conference. The event was also attended by water resource development minister Salman Khurshid and planning commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.