There is finally some positive news for tigers: After declining—often precipitously—for a century, global populations of this endangered animal have risen slightly over the past six years.
In 2010, there were an estimated 3,200 tigers living in the wild. New estimates suggest that there are now just under 3,900.
Then, as now, tigers are primarily killed by poachers, who seek the animal for its skins, as well as body parts used in traditional Chinese medicine, despite zero evidence of medicinal value. Habitat loss and fragmentation continue to take a toll, as well as conflict with people, such as when tigers are killed after run-ins with locals and their livestock.
The increase in tiger numbers has primarily been seen in India, Russia, Nepal and Bhutan, says Ginette Hemley, a senior vice president with the World Wildlife Fund. The group has collated and released the population estimates on the eve of the third Asian Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation, in New Delhi, India, a meeting of 13 countries that have tigers living within their borders.
“We’ve got a good, positive start, [especially] since before 2010 things were in dramatic decline,” says Barney Long, director of species conservation with the environmental group Global Wildlife Conservation. In 1900, for example, there were an estimated 100,000 tigers roaming the wilds of Asia, a number that declined by 97 percent by 2010. The reversal of the decline “needs to be heartily congratulated, but we can’t be complacent.”
India has by far the most tigers, with an estimated total population of 2,226, followed by Russia (433), Indonesia (371), Malaysia (250), Nepal (198), Thailand (189), Bangladesh (106) and Bhutan (103).