Good news in the world of endangered species is generally a rare thing, so it's worth taking a moment to celebrate the results from India's latest tiger census.
Conservation officials for the country announced this week a 30 percent increase in its tiger population, from 1,706 in 2011 to 2,226 in 2014.
"Never before has such an exercise been taken on such a massive scale where we have unique photographs of 80 percent of India's tigers," Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters in Delhi. "While the tiger population is falling in the world, it is rising in India. This is great news."
With India home to an estimated 70 percent of the world's tigers, increases like this one are hopeful for the survival of the species. Efforts to stabilize the species stretch back to 1972, when a census discovered only 1,872 tigers left in the country (down from 40,000 at the turn of the 20th century). To preserve habitat and protect existing populations, conservation officials launched Project Tiger, which includes 47 reserves covering more than 20,674 square miles.
Unfortunately, like many other countries that harbor endangered species, India's conservation efforts are being rocked by mass-scale organized poaching and increased demand from the black market for animal parts. A census in 2008 in India found its tiger population at a dangerously low number of 1,411 tigers. To counter further drops, officials moved to protect sensitive tiger breeding grounds and increase the country's wildlife reserves. Despite stricter laws governing tourism in tiger reserves, more than 3 million people are visiting them each year, boosting local economies and creating jobs.
"Tigers cannot survive without their protection staff, good management and large enough natural landscapes," Julian Matthews, of Travel Operators for Tigers, told the UK Telegraph, "but they will not thrive and expand without nature tourism’s invaluable economics, its visitors’ ‘hearts on their sleeve’ consciences, and communities willing to fight for living wildlife, because large carnivores are worth more to them alive than dead."
International cooperation and funding from groups like WildAid, the World Wildlife Fund and deep-pocketed advocates like Richard Branson, Larry Ellison and Leonardo DiCaprio have made an impact, as have on-the-ground efforts from local communities and individuals.
"If we don’t take action now, one of the most iconic animals on our planet could be gone in just a few decades," DiCaprio said after a million dollar donation to the WWF in 2010. "By saving tigers, we can also protect some of our last remaining ancient forests and improve the lives of indigenous communities."
Technology is also aiding the comeback, with officials monitoring tiger populations using drones. For 2015, aerial surveillance is being expanded to 10 biodiversity-rich sites.
While the population increases are encouraging, conservationists say the fight to save tigers and other endangered species is far from over.
"While this is good news from India, I don't think anyone is sitting back and saying 'we've won.,'" Debbie Banks, head of the Tiger Campaign at the Environmental Investigation Agency, told CNN. "The demand within China for skins to decorate homes and bones for tiger bone wine all continue. And so it's a constant battle."
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