India keeps a close eye on its tigers

The good news that India’s wild tiger numbers have been increasing by 6% annually since 2006 is offset by reported declines in their habitat (see go.nature.com/2tig959). Habitat loss is a particular concern for the genetically unique populations in the northeast of the country. Conservation efforts must now focus on protecting those areas and improving the connectivity of the habitat corridors that are crucial for the animals’ dispersal.

Tiger surveys, produced in conjunction with the Wildlife Institute of India, are run every four years by the Indian government. The 2018 survey was unprecedented in intensity and scale, with 77,000 tiger photographs taken from motion-triggered camera pairs placed in 27,000 locations. Together with some 35 million photos, it identified more than 80% of the country’s 3,000 tigers.

Surveys on this scale entail sifting through tens of millions of wildlife photos, of which only a tiny fraction are of tigers. Research teams in India and elsewhere are developing artificial-intelligence tools to automate the process. This will improve conservation efforts worldwide by teaching us more about the effects of human pressures on the abundance and distribution of wildlife.

Nature 572, 586 (2019)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-019-02546-z

Competing Interests

All the authors on this Correspondence are experts in carnivore conservation research and were invited by the government of India to act as independent observers of the processes involved in the All-India tiger surveys in 2018. These visits were conducted in July 2019. The authors were not paid a salary but did have their costs of travel covered. This Correspondence reflects our independent view of the process and its importance internationally.


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