103 wild tigers were counted in Bhutan this year – a huge jump from the previous estimate of just 75.
The survey was conducted by Bhutanese scientists and spanned habitats from snowy mountains in the north to subtropical forests in the south. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) worked closely with the Bhutan government to provide funds and technical support. The tigers were identified by their stripes, which, like human fingerprints, are unique to each animal.
WWF director of species conservation Barney Long says:
“This is a critical milestone in the global effort to save tigers. Bhutan is one of only 13 tiger range countries, and knowing how many tigers exist is the first step towards effectively protecting them. We applaud Bhutan’s efforts to set this tiger population baseline.”
Like Bhutan, other countries have performed national tiger surveys with India, Russia and Nepal reporting higher numbers than previous estimates. Bangladesh reported lower numbers in its first national survey and Malaysia reported a drastic drop from 500 in 2010 to as few as 250. The numbers for tigers in Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar are unknown.
Poaching and habitat loss are the major threats to remaining wild tigers in Southeast Asian countries. There could be as few as 3,200 left in the wild and counting them is the first step in protecting and conserving these majestic big cats. Although surveys are expensive, labor intensive and often in difficult climate and weather conditions, the results are more than worthwhile.
Over the last decade, the Amur tiger population in Russia has increased to as many as 540. According to an interim census by the Russian government, there are between 480 and 540 tigers, including 100 cubs, over 58,000 square miles of habitat.
Around 2,000 specialists were involved in the field research using technologies like GPS tracking, satellite navigators and camera traps. These numbers represent an increase from the last census in 2005, which showed between 423 to 502 tigers.
Russia’s Far East has 95% of the global population of Amur tigers. Recent anti-poaching efforts in the area have been crucial to increasing numbers, including harsher punishments and newly established criminal charges for illegal hunting, storage and trafficking of the tigers. Head of WWF-Russia Igor Chestin says:
“I am pleased to see that the number of Amur tigers in Russia has increased in all the key areas where WWF has been working for many years. This success is due to the commitment of Russia’s political leadership and the tireless dedication of rangers and conservationists in very difficult conditions.”
Poaching is the principal threat to wild Amur tigers today, with such a high demand of tiger parts throughout Asia still in existence. The number of Amur tigers dropped to just 40 animals in the 1940s, but through conservation efforts, the population has come back from the brink of extinction.
As part of an effort to double global tiger numbers by 2022, the World Wildlife Fund is urging every country with Amur tigers to conduct a census. The goal, known as Tx2, requests urgent and comprehensive censuses across South East Asian countries with tigers. Leader of the WWF Tigers Alive Initiative Mike Baltzer states:
“The key is strong political support. Where we have it, in countries like Russia and India, we are seeing tremendous results. However, in South East Asia, where political support is weaker, we are facing a crisis. These countries stand to lose their tigers if urgent action isn’t taken immediately.”
Specialists in Malaysia have suggested that the country’s tiger population may have dropped to 250-340 from approximately 500, making it critical to perform a census there. Other countries in dire need of counting tigers include Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar.
Other countries, however, have been tracking their Amur tiger populations. In January, India released its latest census showing an increase in tiger population to 2,226 , up from 1,706 in 2010. Nepal, which has zero-tolerance for poaching, carried out a census in 2013.
Additionally, China is planning to count tigers this summer, Bangladesh and Bhutan are expected to release their official consensus later in the year and Russia will release its final results in October 2015.
Featured Image: Tambako The Jaguar / CC BY-ND 2.0