The world's wild tiger population has dwindled since the last century, but wildlife conservationists say there are hopeful signs in Nepal. The South Asian nation's government announced on Monday — Global Tiger Day — that its tiger population has increased 63 percent since the last survey in 2009.
The region where the count was conducted is a 600-mile stretch of land in Nepal and India called the Terai Arc Landscape, where tigers roam free.
The two countries signed a resolution in 2010 to combat poaching and illegal wildlife trade to protect endangered species, especially tigers.
The animal census is tracking an international effort to double the world tiger population by the year 2022, an initiative dubbed Tx2.
“Nepal’s results are an important milestone to reaching the global TX2 goal of doubling the number of wild tigers by the year 2022,” Megh Bahadur Pandey, director general of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, said in a statement. “Tigers are a part of Nepal’s natural wealth and we are committed to ensuring these magnificent wild cats have the prey, protection and space to thrive.”
The survey, which Nepal conducted from February through June 2013, using automated cameras that captured the tigers in their habitat, showed an increase among those living in the Nepal state parks to an estimated 198. Just 121 wild tigers lived in Nepal in 2009, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
The effort included more than 260 trained staff, “camera traps” (automated cameras that snap the photos) covering 1,870 square miles of tiger habitat, and 7,699 tiger images.
The WWF has warned that tigers worldwide are in serious danger of becoming extinct in the wild.
Poaching remains the biggest threat to the big cats due to illegal demand for tiger parts in Asia, the WWF said. But keeping track of their numbers has been a challenge: The elusive tigers often live in remote and rugged terrain, and technology to track them has been costly and time consuming.
“These new figures released by Nepal really underscore to the other tiger range countries that new technologies and new methodologies are making it easier than ever to resource the tiger counting which we need to know if we are on track to meeting the TX2 goal,” said Mike Baltzer, the leader of the World Wildlife Fund Tigers Alive Initiative, in a statement.
Along with Nepal and India, the Bengal tigers are found in Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, and Myanmar. Fewer than 2,500 exist in the wild, according to the WWF.