Bengal Tiger Population
A Bengal Tiger in a natural reserve in Karnataka, India. Following the revelation that only 1,411 Bengal tigers exist in the wild in India, down from 3,600 in 2003, the Indian government has decided to set up eight new tiger reserves.
The current population of wild Bengal tigers in the Indian subcontinent is now estimated to be between 1,300 and 1,500. Of these, 1,411 are found in the wild in India while about 280 are found in Bangladesh, mostly in the Sunderbans. Over the past century tiger numbers have fallen dramatically. Of eight sub-species alive in 1900, three are now extinct and we have lost over 90 per cent of wild tigers.
The Project Tiger initiative launched in 1972 initially reversed the species' population decline, the decline has resumed in recent years; India's tiger population decreased from 3,642 in the 1990s to just over 1,400 from 2002 to 2008. Since then, the Indian government has undertaken several steps to reduce the destruction of the Bengal tiger's natural habitat in India. In May 2008, forest officials at the Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan, India spotted 14 tiger cubs. In June 2008, a tiger from Ranthambore was successfully reintroduced to the Sariska Tiger Reserve.
Habitat losses and the extremely large-scale incidences of poaching are serious threats to species survival. Poachers kill Bengal tigers not only for their pelts, but also for body parts used to make various traditional East Asian medicines. Other factors contributing to their loss are urbanization and revenge killing. Farmers blame tigers for killing cattle and shoot them. Poachers also kill Bengal tigers for their bones and teeth to make medicines that are alleged to provide the tiger's strength. The hunting for Chinese medicine and fur is the biggest cause of the decline of the tigers. In Bangladesh , retired Indian Army personnel are being recruited to save the Bengal tiger from bobadas
India probably lays claim to about two-thirds of the world's wild tigers, according to the Cat Specialist Group. But Indian censuses of wild tigers have relied on the individual identification of footprints (known as pug marks), a method widely criticized for its inaccuracy.
An area of special interest lies in northeast India where 11 protected areas are found in the Terai Arc, comprising dry forest foothills and dune valleys at the base of the Himalayas. "The whole idea," says Seidensticker, "is to maintain the connection between them, to create a necklace (of habitat) along the Nepal-India border, involving 1,000 miles from the Royal Chitwan National Park to Cobett National Park."
Once a royal hunting reserve, Chitwan became a national park in 1973. New economic incentives give villagers a direct stake in this renowned tourist attraction, with more than a third of revenues from park entrance fees being returned to the 300,000 people living in 36 villages in the surrounding buffer zone. As a result, locals are now creating and managing tiger habitat and consider themselves guardians of their tigers.
Rivaling Chitwan for the title of the world's best tiger habitat is the Western Ghats forest complex in southwestern India, an area of 14,400 square miles stretching across several protected areas. The challenge here, as throughout most of Asia, is that people literally live on top of the wildlife. The Save the Tiger Fund Council estimates that 7,500 landless people live illegally inside the boundaries of the 386-square-mile Nagarhole National Park in southwestern India. A voluntary if controversial resettlement is underway with the aid of the Karnataka Tiger Conservation Project led by Ullas Karanth of the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Nepal, with a maximum of 200 tigers split into three isolated and vulnerable sub-populations, reports stability after a serious decline.
To the east of Nepal, in Bhutan, scientists in this small Buddhist kingdom have evidence of a richer Bengal tiger population than previously estimated. Camera traps snapped photos of a wild tiger high in the Himalayas, at the surprising elevation of 13,000 feet. This offers new possibilities for suitable tiger habitat.
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