NEW DELHI (AFP) – India, home to most of the world's wild tigers, on Monday reported a rise in the animal's numbers for the first time in years, in a rare piece of good news for conservationists.
The tiger census found 1,706 of the animals in India last year, compared with 1,411 in 2006, officials in New Delhi announced -- though they said much of the increase was due to more thorough counting.
"We have expanded the survey to cover the entirety of India now and our estimate is now more accurate," said Rajesh Gopal of Project Tiger, the government's tiger conservation body.
Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh welcomed the figures as "a very encouraging sign."
Increased surveying included coverage of difficult terrain such as the Sunderbans mangrove forest, which straddles the borders of India's West Bengal state and Bangladesh.
India is home to more than half of the world's rapidly dwindling wild tiger population, but its conservation programme has been struggling to halt the big cat's decline.
The current tiger population still remains a long way off the numbers registered in 2002 when some 3,700 tigers were estimated to be alive in the country.
There were thought to be around 40,000 tigers in India at the time of independence from Britain in 1947.
Authorities across Asia are waging a major battle against poachers and other man-made problems such as destruction of the tigers' habitat.