How India’s Detailed Tiger Survey Is Setting a Global Conservation Standard
India has achieved a major success in conservation efforts with their Tiger Survey, and the results validate the country’s impressive investment in tiger conservation. According to one of the most detailed wildlife surveys ever conducted, Indian tiger numbers are up 6 percent, to roughly 3,000 animals. This mammoth effort, conducted by 44,000 field staff across 20 tiger-occupied states, may set a new world standard in counting large carnivores.
Unrivalled Camera Trap Technology for Collecting Data
Counting tigers, or any large, solitary predator, is a difficult endeavour, as the animals do not make it easy to be seen. To combat this, the Indian government has utilized camera traps. For this survey, the project team placed paired traps at 26,760 locations across 139 study sites, collecting over 35 million photos; 76,523 tigers and 51,337 leopards were identified. With this amount of data being collected, it was crucial that the photos be correctly sorted and analyzed. Therefore, the team enlisted the help of numerous experts in pattern matching, machine learning, and spatial analysis.
Encouraging Outcomes from the Survey
The survey’s results yielded some encouraging numbers; a total of 2,461 individual tigers, aged one year or older, were identified, estimated at a population of 2,967 individuals within a roughly 12 percent margin of error. Not only has this population increased by 6 percent annually since 2006, but the tigers have moved into 8 percent of their Indian range. Although this is a great success for Indian conservation efforts, the survey also revealed some concerning numbers; there has been a 20 percent decline in the areas occupied by tigers in 2014.
Continuation of Conservation Efforts Needed
The coordinators of the survey have concluded that while established and secure tiger populations have increased, smaller, isolated populations and corridors between these populations have gone extinct. This highlights the need for conservation efforts to focus on improving a tiger’s connectivity between locations, which includes incentivizing the relocation of people out of core tiger areas, as well as reducing poaching and improving habitats to increase prey resources. Investment from private sector tourist corporations and conservation organizations could supplement government funding for expanding protected corridors and helping to extend India’s conservation efforts. The successes of the survey have led the governments of Nepal and Bangladesh to also enlist the same team to help estimate their own tiger populations.
While the technology used in India’s Tiger Survey is specific to species that can be individually identified, techniques that helped conduct this survey can be employed to benefit other species in other countries; jaguars in South and Central America; leopards, cheetahs, and hyenas in Africa, and quolls in Australia. India’s Tiger Survey has set a examples for other countries to follow in order to save their species from extinction.