India registered a 20 per cent increase in tiger population last year, says a report, ‘Status of tigers, co-predators and prey in India-2010,' released here on Thursday by Jagdish Kishwan, Additional Director-General (Wildlife), Ministry of Environment and Forests.

“The estimated population of 1, 706 individual tigers represents a 20 per cent increase from the last survey in 2006, which estimated a number of 1,411 tigers. The increase is based on the survey of additional areas as well as an increase in the number of tigers within high-density populations,'' the report said.

The assessment of tigers, co-predators and prey included 17 States with tiger population and involved 4, 77, 000 work-days by forest staff and 37, 000 work-days by professional biologists, making it the largest exercise of its kind in the world. It is done once every four years and is a collaborative initiative between the National Tiger Conservation Authority, the Wildlife Institute of India, tiger States and outside expertise.

“The increase in the numbers is due to the fact that tiger populations in Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka have shown an increase in their density.

The inclusion of Sunderbans, some portions of the North-East and parts of Maharashtra have also contributed to the increase and the methodology consisted of a double sampling approach,” noted Mr. Kishwan.

But despite the good news, the report warns that tigers are still in danger due to an overall 12.6 per cent loss of habitat, which means that more tigers are being squeezed into smaller areas, which could lead to a lack of dispersal and consequent loss of genetic exchange between populations, and an increase in human-tiger conflict.

“Human wildlife conflict has been one of the major issues that we need to work around to ensure that not just tigers but other endangered species have a chance of flourishing.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests is also looking at amending and bringing in harsher penalties for those caught under the Wildlife Act. We will also bring in the eco tourism guidelines very soon.”

Lead author of the report, Dr. Y. V. Jhala, said: “The loss of corridors does not bode well for the tiger. Poaching can wipe out individual tiger populations, but these can be re-established by reintroductions as has been done in the Sariska and Panna reserves.

However, once habitats are lost, it is almost impossible to claim them back for restoration. We found that tigers require good forests and prey, along with undisturbed breeding areas, for long-term term survival.”