The population of wild tigers in Asia continues to recover: since the historical low point in 2006, for example, the number of animals in India has increased to about twice. About 3000 of these big cats roam the forests of the subcontinent.
The encouraging figures are a consequence of India’s massive efforts to maintain a healthy tiger population, Matt Hayward of the University of Newcastle and Joseph Bump of the University of Minnesota write in The Conversation. The head of the WWF initiative Tigers Alive, Stuart Chapman, also speaks ofan “amazing comeback”. There is also good news for the tiger populations in Bhutan, China, Nepal and Russia, which have also increased.
The figures, published by the Indian government on World Tiger Day, July 29, are the result of one of the largest works ever conducted. By the way, it is now up to the Guinness publishing house to determine whether it was actually the largest, the researchers have requested inclusion in the Book of Records.
According to Hayward and Bump, a total of 44,000 on-site workers were deployed to study 318,000 habitats in 20 Indian states where there are tigers. In doing so, they would have combed through 381,000 square kilometers of land.
The means of choice were camera traps, because tigers wouldn’t make it easy for the researchers, the two scientists write: the big lone sneaker hunters hated being seen.
To evaluate the 35 million photos taken from the 26,760 camera traps, the research teams relied on artificial intelligence. Using the technology, they were able to automatically separate individual tigers. Due to a difficult political situation, cameras could not be installed in all tiger areas, only 86 percent of the animals were clearly identified via photos. The experts finally came to the total number of about 3000 big cats by extrapolation. However, it is in line with the figures from previous surveys. Every four years, such an inventory is to be repeated.
According to the evaluations, the number of cats increased, but not that of their distribution areas. In the last five years, these have shrunk by a fifth, and only eight percent of the area has been added. Loss of habitat can make populations more susceptible to disturbances. If habitats are not connected by corridors, the population will also become genetically impoverished in the long run. According to WWF, however, the greatest danger for tigers at the moment is the sharp increase in poaching in Southeast Asia, especially from traps. Experts from the animal welfare organization estimate the number of sling traps at around twelve million. They are the reason why the tigers are probably extinct in countries such as Cambodia or Laos.