World's Tiger Population Has Increased by 40%

It's a 'tremendous turning point for a species on the brink of extinction.'

Tiger in tall grass
Subharanjan Sen / Getty Images

There’s some great news for a beloved big cat.

The world’s tiger population is stable and is likely even on the upswing, according to a new assessment.

The latest report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) finds that tiger population numbers may have increased as much as 40% in seven years. There were 3,200 tigers in 2015 and potentially 4.500 in 2022. That’s the first growth in decades.

The new information is a “tremendous turning point for a species on the brink of extinction,” according to global wild cat conservation organization Panthera, which led the assessment for the IUCN’s “red list” of threatened species.

Every few years since 1968, the tiger’s status is reassessed as it continues to be classified as endangered. The latest assessment also classifies the tiger as endangered, but there is better news.

“It is the first time that we have a better sense of the status of populations across the species’ range and an understanding of how several key populations are performing,” Abishek Harihar, tiger program deputy director for Panthera, tells Treehugger. “This has shown us that the population is higher than we previously estimated (albeit on account of more comprehensive surveys)."

Since the initial Tiger Conservation Landscapes assessment in 1998, governments and non-profit groups have been working toward a better understanding of tiger populations and have focused on conservation steps.

Starting In 2010, many governments committed to the Global Tiger Recovery Program. The goal has been to reverse the fast population plummet and to work to double the number of wild tigers globally—reaching at least 6,000 animals—by 2022. They missed the goal and scientists and leaders in tiger range states will meet for a second Global Tiger Summit later this year to create a new 12-year recovery plan for the species.

Better Reporting Has an Impact

The new assessment estimates there are somewhere between 3,725 and 5,578 wild tigers in Asia. With an average of 4,500 tigers, about 3,140 of them are estimated to be adults.

South Asia’s tigers account for 76% of the world’s tiger population. The area’s tigers have seen growth, particularly in India and Nepal. The report says that in Northeast Asia, population figures are mostly stable in Russia and likely to be increasing along the China border.

The worst situation is in Southeast Asia where tiger numbers have dropped in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam since the turn of the century.

The increased numbers may also be due somewhat to better reporting methods. Panthera points out that even 15 years ago, scientists made educated guesses when estimating tiger numbers. Subsequent improvement including better camera trap technology, genetic testing, and more rangers tracking the animals has made a great impact on how the animals are monitored accurately.

In the past, assessments sometimes used very conservative population estimates or underestimated tiger numbers. Because of those low figures, it’s not surprising that population estimates like those just announced have shown increases.

Scientists believe this current assessment is more reliable and accurate.

“The population estimates for this assessment come primarily from government and non-governmental organization [NGO] surveys across the tiger’s range,” Harihar says. “Firstly, the efforts of governments and NGOs have produced some of the widest coverage of the species’ range. With the advancement of methods and greater adoption of these reliable field and analytical techniques, we now have a more comprehensive understanding of tiger populations.” 

Steps to Conservation

Scientists point out it is critical to continue conservation efforts. Tigers remain endangered and there has been significant decline through the last three generations. The subspecies Malayan and Sumatran tigers are listed as critically endangered.

“These declines have occurred due to habitat loss and poaching of tigers and their prey, with these threats persisting in several parts of the tiger’s range,” Harihar says. “While we are making progress in parts of its range, including South and Northeast Asia, tiger populations in Southeast Asia are still threatened with extinction.”

In addition to poaching, tigers are threatened by habitat loss and defragmentation and deaths from retaliation after killing livestock or people.

Panthera Chief Scientist and Tiger Program Director John Goodrich says that he expects tigers to be reclassified as “vulnerable,” which is one step farther away from extinction, by the next IUCN assessment which should happen in seven to 10 years.

“While a monumental amount of protection and funding are still needed before proclaiming ‘mission accomplished,’ these numbers signal previously incomprehensible stability in the global tiger population, and even increases in some protected areas,” Goodrich said in a statement.

“This is nothing short of a watershed moment in the history of the species, made even more remarkable given the overwhelming threats tigers face at every turn.”