Chennai: The latest national tiger estimation showing a 20 percent increase in the number of big cats is a cause for cheer, but leading experts and conservationists say the next focus should be on protecting its habitats and retaining their continuity and overall ecological quality.
"Though the latest national tiger population estimation shows an increasing trend, we need to focus on protection of tiger habitats, retaining habitat contiguity and the overall ecological quality of tiger habitats," says Ravi Chellam, a scientist with the Wildlife Institute of India.
The All India Tiger Estimation - conducted every four years- in 2010 showed a 20 per cent increase over the figure in 2006 from 1411 to 1706.
Notwithstanding the increase in the numbers, experts feel the big cats are constantly under threat due to development related infrastructure expansion into tiger habitats.
"Though we still have a few large tiger habitats, expansion of infrastructure into tiger habitats like laying of railway lines and roads have a very negative impact on their habitat as well as on direct mortality of animals and also increased human access to these habitats," says Chellam.
"Data only shows the number of tigers left in the wild, but it is other deeds like conserving habitats and preventing their fragmentation and restoring connectivity that will ensure the tiger population survives and proliferates in the long run," he said.
Tamil Nadu along with Uttarakhand, Maharashtra and Karnataka leads in tiger density, says the estimation.
Sathyamangalam and Seygoor area of Nilgris Biosphere in Tamil Nadu is a notable area in the tiger map. "Tiger density in this area is one (big cat) per 10 square kilometer. That is one of the best tiger densities in the world. Usually it is between one tiger for 30 to 40 square kilometers," says Coimbatore-based C R Jayaprakash, executive committee member, Nilgiris Wildlife and Environment Association, Ooty.
"This (Sathyamangalam range) is the place for source population. After almost 20 years, two tigers were spotted in Coimbatore district this year using camera traps. This is a positive trend," he says.
Another study by World Wide Fund for Nature near Sathyamangalam, Seygoor and Bandipur belt in October-November 2010 has also shown a good number of tigers.
"(In this study) we found over 50 tigers in this area using camera traps. The tiger population in this area is certainly growing thanks to availability of prey and intergrated habitats here," says N Mohanraj, Co-ordinator with World Wildlife Fund for Nature in Coimbatore.
All the experts agree that the sole and most significant step in tiger conservation is a focus on improving the animal`s habitat.