Bhutan just completed its first tiger population survey, and found that the tiger population is higher than previously thought. Bhutan is home to 103 tigers, which is an increase of more than a third since the previous tiger estimate of 75. The survey was conducted completely by Bhutanese nationals. Dechen Dorji, WWF Bhutan country representative, said: “The roaring success of Bhutan’s first ever nationwide survey gives us a rare look into the lives of the magnificent tigers roaming across the entire country. This is an incredible achievement with great teamwork and leadership from the Royal Government of Bhutan.”
But this is rare good news for the tiger, which has vanished from 93% of its historic habitat, has lost three subspecies in the past 80 years, and numbers fewer than 3,200 in the wild (there are more captive tigers in the state of Texas than there are in the wild globally). In 1900, as many as 100,000 tigers roamed Asia.
In 2010, tiger range countries agreed to double tiger numbers by 2022. Tiger numbers are unknown in Thailand, Myanmar, and Indonesia, and are believed to have decreased in Bangladesh and Malaysia (by as much as half since 2010 in the case of Malaysia). The government of Malaysia has just agreed to conduct its first tiger survey.
Mike Baltzer, WWF Tigers Alive initiative leader, said: “There is a tiger crisis in south-east Asia. Countries are not counting their tigers and are at risk of losing them if immediate action isn’t taken. Political support is weaker and resources are fewer, while poaching and habitat loss are at critical levels. Until countries know the reality on the ground they can’t take appropriate action to protect their tigers. WWF is calling on all south-east Asian tiger countries to count their tigers and on the global tiger conservation community to focus efforts in these critical south-east Asian countries.”
But there has been some recent good news about tiger populations, although it’s hard to know what to trust and whether tiger populations are actually recovering in specific reserves and countries. Numbers released earlier this year show that India’s tiger population has increased by almost a third in the last three years. Amur tiger numbers are on the rise in the Russian Far East, according to the latest census, and Nepal’s 2013 tiger survey also indicated an increase. Possibly most surprisingly of all, “there are indications that tigers are settling and breeding in north eastern China,” WWF has said.