The Indian sub-continent is home to about 80-90% of world’s tiger population and experts feel a joint census will lead to not only more verified numbers but also greater coordination and conservation efforts among the four nations.
The countries agreed to the move at a meeting last week of officials of the four nations and members of the Global Tiger Forum, an international body that works for tiger conservation across the globe. The four neighbouring countries have decided to come out with the first-ever joint tiger estimation report of the Indian subcontinent.
“It was a successful meeting. The officials decided that the four nations will now together count their tigers. It will result in better estimation of their population as there are tiger habitats that fall in two countries like Sundarbans," said S.P. Yadav, an Indian Forest Service officer and assistant secretary general at the Global Tiger Forum, an inter-governmental organization dedicated to tiger conservation.
“All neighbouring countries Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and India will follow the same protocol using camera traps which will result in much precise and accurate estimates of tiger numbers. The GTF will coordinate with these countries to build up their capacity to take on this challenging task," Yadav added.
Yadav explained that though tiger numbers have shown an increasing trend in India, Russia, Nepal and Bhutan, the global scenario is gloomy as Cambodia, Vietnam and Lao PDR have a very small population of tigers.
“The tiger is still highly endangered and in view of this, the joint effort of these countries has tremendous significance at the international level," he said.
According to the tiger census of 2014, India was home to 2,226 tigers which is about 60% of the world’s wild tiger population of about 3,890.
After India are: Russia (433 tigers), Indonesia (371), Malaysia (250) and Nepal (198).
In 2016, India’s tiger count was pegged at 2,500.
The number marks the success of India’s efforts to protect its national animal. A decade back, pressure on their habitat and poaching had seen tiger numbers hit a low of 1,411 (in 2006).
The 2018 tiger estimation is now expected to start in January 2018 and the number is expected to rise.
To check the dwindling population of tigers, the Indian government launched Project Tiger in 1973. India now has 50 tiger reserves that cover 2.12% of the country’s total geographical area.
India’s attempt with tiger diplomacy is not new. It is already a leader in tiger conservation efforts among the 13 tiger range countries. South-East Asian nations like Cambodia are already working with India on tiger conservation.
In January 2015, the then environment minister Prakash Javadekar, while announcing the result of the 2014 tiger census, had said that the ministry is willing to share tiger cubs with the international community for conservation efforts.
According to a senior official of the Union environment ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity, “We are already collaborating with several tiger range nations. But there is no final decision on giving tigers to them as yet. It is a long process."
About 100,000 tigers roamed the forests of the world in 1900, but their numbers dwindled steadily, hitting a low of 3,200 in 2010.
Tigers are specified as endangered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species. They face threats from poaching and habitat loss. Statistics from TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, show that body parts of a minimum of 1,590 tigers were seized by the law enforcement officials between January 2000 and April 2014 across tiger range countries; the big cats were feeding a multi-billion dollar illegal wildlife trade.