NEW DELHI (AP) — India's latest tiger census shows a sharp increase in the number of the endangered cats in the wild, raising hopes that conservation efforts are working, officials said Tuesday.
The census conducted in 2014 found at least 2,226 tigers in forests across the country, up from 1,706 counted in 2010.
Environment minister Prakash Javadekar described the figure as a huge success story and said it was the result of sustained conservation efforts.
"While the tiger population is falling in the world, it is rising in India. This is great news," Javadekar told journalists in New Delhi.
Tigers in India have been threatened by rampant poaching and shrinking habitats from deforestation caused by power projects, roads and human settlements as the country pushes ahead with rapid industrialization and economic development.
The disappearance of forests has affected the availability of prey and led tigers to stray into human habitats.
Javadekar said more than 9,700 cameras were used in the massive count and the results are the most accurate in the past few decades.
"Never before has such an exercise been taken. We have unique photographs of 80 percent of the tigers" in the wild, he said.
Officials said nearly 380,000 square kilometers (146,000 square miles) of forest area in 18 states were surveyed.
A century ago an estimated 100,000 tigers roamed India's forests. Their numbers declined steadily till the 1970s, when India banned tiger hunting and embarked on a program to create special reserves and protected areas in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Conservation efforts began to pay off around 2010 when tiger numbers began to rise.
India faces intense international scrutiny over its tiger conservation efforts as it has nearly three-fourths of the world's estimated 3,200 tigers.
Shrinking habitats have brought the wild cats into conflict with farmers who live near tiger reserves. Also, the illegal trade in tiger skin and body parts remains a stubborn and serious threat. Tiger organs and bones fetch high prices on the black market because of demand driven by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners.