What's black and orange and growing for the first time in decades? India's tiger population! On Monday, officials announced the results of the latest tiger count. The census tallied 1,706 tigers in forests across the Asian country—about 300 more than four years ago. "These numbers give us hope for the future of tigers in the world," said Jim Leape, international director of the World Wildlife Fund.
A century ago, about 100,000 tigers roamed India's forests. But by 2002, a count revealed that there were only 3,600 left. The number dropped to 1,411 in 2007. What caused India's tiger population to shrink so dramatically?
More than anything else, experts say, development has taken a toll. People have moved into tiger territory and destroyed much of the animal's habitat. Today, tigers live on a just small fraction of the land they occupied 100 years ago.
Illegal hunting has also contributed to the decline. Poachers can demand high fees for tiger parts, which are a key ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine. The parts from one tiger can sell for tens of thousands of dollars.
A Call to Action
India's news is a step in the right direction. But while the number of tigers has increased there in the last four years, the animals' habitat has shrunk. Roads and construction projects have blocked off many tiger corridors—routes used by the big cats to go from one forest to another. "Securing these corridors should be taken up as a priority," says Rajesh Gopal, of the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
Last November, leaders from the 13 countries that are home to wild tigers met in St. Petersburg, Russia, to develop a plan to help the endangered cats. They set a goal to double the world's tiger population by the year 2022. Will we reach that goal? With India's tiger population on the rise and conservationists around the world focused on helping the big cats, it seems it just might happen.
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