If no action is taken, tiger experts believe wild tigers may disappear altogether by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger.
But tigers can recover, and quickly – as long as they, their prey, and their forest home are properly protected.
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Tiger numbers in India were crashing in the late 1970s – down from an estimated 40,000 in the 1930s to fewer than 2,400.
In repsonse, WWF launched Operation Tiger, committing $1 million for emergency action.
WWF engaged then-Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi behind this massive effort. This led to the Indian government launching Project Tiger and establishing a high-level Tiger Task Force to rebuild tiger populations.
Within months, several now world-famous tiger reserves were established including Corbett, Kanha, Manas, Ranthambhore, and Sunderban.
All were chosen according to the best potential for tiger conservation. A core area of at least 30,000 ha was established in each tiger reserve, free from human interference. By 1979, the campaign had expanded to 11 tiger reserves, with a further 4 added subsequently.
The effort quickly showed positive results. Later tiger censuses showed the population had increased.
This example shows that high-level political will, habitat protection, and anti-poaching efforts do work.
It also shows that such efforts must be sustained.
A lack of continued funding for anti-poaching efforts in India has seen poaching resume – with the tragic result that in some tiger reserves, all tigers have been killed.
Overall, there may now be as few as 1,300 wild tigers left in India.