India wild tiger census shows population rise

Tiger cubs play beside their mother at Assam State Zoo in Guwahati, India India's tiger census counted the big cats in the Sundarbans, near Bangladesh, for the first time

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The number of tigers in India's wild has gone up by 20%, according to the latest tiger census, which has surveyed the whole of India for the first time.

The census puts the population of the big cat at 1,706. There were 1,411 tigers at the last count in 2007.

But officials have raised concerns about the amount of territory that tigers have to roam in.

India has more than 45,000 sq km (27,961 miles) of forest area in 39 designated tiger reserves.

But India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh described the shrinking of tiger corridors as "alarming".

Unique footprints

Wildlife experts say the preservation of these corridors should be a priority for the government.

Tiger corridors connect natural habitats, which have been separated over time by human development and activity.

Conservationists used hidden cameras installed at strategic points and DNA tests to count the cats.

Earlier estimates were drawn up using the older method of counting the pugmarks - or the unique footprint - of individual tigers.

India had 100,000 tigers at the turn of the last century but there has been a serious decline in numbers since then.

Experts say that 97% of tigers have been lost to poaching and shrinking habitats.

Today, fewer than 3,500 tigers remain in the wild around the world with India accounting for more than half of them.

But the latest census figures were described as "good news" by Mr Ramesh.

The key difference in the latest census was that it covered the whole of India.

"The count is more scientific this time and therefore more accurate," Rajesh Gopal of Project Tiger, the government's tiger conservation body, was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying.

The survey could include difficult swampy terrain such as that found in the Sundarbans mangrove forest in West Bengal state bordering Bangladesh.

This count yielded 70 tigers from the Sundarbans tiger reserve, which had not been covered in the last census.

Tiger numbers have been rapidly falling in recent years due to a rise in poaching, which experts say is now organised in a similar way to drug trafficking.

The Indian authorities have not been able to put a stop to poaching, partly because of the ever-changing techniques used by the cartels behind it.

Correspondents say tiger products are a lucrative business.

There is huge demand for tiger bones, claws and skin in countries like China, Taiwan and Korea, where they are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

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