In an astonishing reappearance, at least 20 tigers were spotted last week in India’s western state of Maharashtra, at least three decades after it was believed that illegal poaching and habitat destruction there had devastated the whole population.
The discovery occurred in the 800 square kilometre-wide (300 square miles) Sahyadri range of forested mountains, as part of an ongoing nationwide tiger population census. It is estimated that India has half of the world’s remaining tigers. According to the last count in 2001 and 2002, their numbers were pegged at 3,642 – a huge decline from 40,000 a century ago.Based on current preliminary findings however, the number of tigers could be closer to 1,300 and 1,500. The complete findings of the census will be made public later this year.
It is possible that poachers had moved onto other tiger-populated areas in search of more prey in the illegal and lucrative trade in tiger organs, which are used in traditional Chinese medicines. Earlier this year, the Indian government called for strengthening the existing ban on the trade.
Conservationists now hope that the discovery will spur the government to declare the Sahyadri a protected tiger reserve. "Once the tiger reserve is declared, the forest department must be given the necessary means to protect it," said Rahul Kaul, director of conservation at the Wildlife Trust of India.
"But it shouldn't be just lip service. We have had enough of that."