India cheers rising tiger numbers amid habitat concerns

Mon Mar 28, 2011 6:41am EDT
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By Matthias Williams

NEW DELHI (Reuters Life!) - The number of Indian tigers living in the wild rose to 1,706 at the latest count, giving a boost to conservation efforts for the endangered species in the country with the world's largest population of the big cats.

But the government on Monday raised concern over a sharp decline in the habitat where tigers were found, which could shrink further if the government goes ahead with new development projects.

"We have a mixed bag," Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said at the release of the tiger census in New Delhi. "We have reason to feel satisfied with what we have done. But the threats are imminent."

The New Delhi government has for decades been fighting a losing battle to conserve tiger numbers against poaching, which feeds a lucrative cross-border trade in body parts, and the loss of natural habitat. Tiger numbers have plummeted 97 percent from 100,000 at the turn of the last century.

But the latest government data showed an increase to 1,636 cats tracked in 2010 from 1,411 three years ago, according to a census released on Monday. The census also added numbers from the Sunderbans region in West Bengal state for the first time, taking the total to 1,706.

"There's a lot of encouraging news in this survey," Jim Leape, Director General of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), told Reuters.

"In the areas where India has worked to have effective protection in tiger reserves and effective engagement in the surrounding landscapes you see tiger numbers improving."

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