Mathias Appel
Science

Number of wild tigers rises for the first time in a century

While they are still endangered, conservation efforts have so far been a success

By Lisa Carr

For the first time in a century, the estimated number of wild tigers in the world has risen. But whilst this is a really positive step in the right direction, it’s not time to celebrate just yet.

Conservationists from The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Global Tiger Forum counted 3890 wild tigers in the last global census. Whilst this is a great so–called ‘increase’ from the 3200 tigers that were counted globally in 2010, in 1900 there were more than 100,000 wild tigers. We still have a long way to go if we want to restore the population back to what it could be.

The century of constant decline has seen tiger populations decimated for a number of reasons. Across their ranges, tigers have seen unrelenting pressures from humans. They are poached for their skin, they are hunted in ‘retaliation’ for harming livestock in farming communities and they are continuously forced to compete for space with ever-expanding human populations.

The biggest blow recently has come from Cambodia. There are now no breeding tigers in the wild within Cambodian borders; therefore, tigers are functionally extinct in the country. However, a reintroduction of the species is on the cards to hopefully restore populations in the South East Asian country.

Indonesia has also seen some of the most substantial declines in tiger populations of recent history. Tigers are losing their forest habitats in the region as vast swathes of land are cleared to meet the growing demands for palm oil, pulp and paper. Habitat loss is one of the biggest killers of many species around the globe as animals are increasingly forced to retreat from their natural areas to make way for agriculture and expanded urban spaces. Orang-utans are another great example of an endangered species that have been forced out of Indonesian habitats due to palm oil pressures. The Indonesian government has been called upon to do more to protect their forest species. In 2015 Indonesian fires that were created to clear agricultural land raged out of control and thousands of species suffered as a result.

Yet, despite all the habitat loss, there is still enough forest area on the planet to sustain a substantial population increase for our troubled tigers. In fact, the tiger population at present could be doubled and our global forests could still accommodate the numbers. However, for a big population projection to work, conservationists need to work closely with political powers and regional communities to ensure we’re all working together to sustain populations.

However, as it was mentioned before, it might not be time to celebrate just yet. It can’t be confirmed whether the new estimated numbers of tigers worldwide is a surefire increase just yet. Improved survey methods, better counting tools and greater areas of land being included in the count could simply mean that we are now more aware of how many tigers there are. An increase in population might not be on the cards just yet. But what we can be thankful for is that we’re getting better at measuring populations, and therefore we can fully understand where the populations are that need best protection.

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