NEW DELHI • Tiger numbers have grown in India, in what is being seen as good news for the endangered species.
The latest tiger census figures showed that the population has increased to 2,967, up by one-third from four years ago.
"With around 3,000 tigers, India has emerged as one of the biggest and safest habitats for them in the world," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said when he released the All India Tiger Estimation Report 2018.
He said the figures showed that it was possible to strike a balance between conservation and development.
A tiger census is carried out every four years. The latest report covered 381,400 sq km of forested habitat, in what was dubbed the biggest tiger count in the world.
Trap cameras were deployed in 26,838 locations, surveys conducted on foot by forest authorities, and satellite imagery from across 50 tiger reserves in the country was studied.
There are only about 4,000 tigers in the world, with India home to more than 70 per cent of the big cats.
The South Asian country is the home of the Bengal tiger - also found in smaller numbers in Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China and Myanmar - and has managed to prevent its habitat from vanishing by creating tiger reserves.
India's tiger numbers have been climbing for some time, up from 1,706 in 2010 to 2,226 in 2014.
But the pressure of development - including the building of roads and railways, as well as electricity lines, through tiger reserves - and the growing human population are putting pressure on their habitats, increasing the chances of human-animal encounters.
Conservationists have welcomed the new data, but also warned of many more challenges ahead.
"Of course, it is a wonderful achievement by India. But we cannot sit back and rely on numbers to secure the future for wild tigers," said Ms Belinda Wright, executive director of the New Delhi-based Wildlife Protection Society of India.
"On one hand, there is an increase in numbers, but the threats are also increasing. We have to make sure that areas which are protected tiger habitat are sacrosanct and that intrusion not be allowed.
"In particular, linear intrusions like roads, canals, electric lines, railways... disturb tigers and prey species, increasing human-animal conflict," she said.
Last week, a tigress which had mauled several people was beaten to death in a village bordering a reserve in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state.
There are 173 tigers in Uttar Pradesh, the latest census showed.
"It's great to see that tiger numbers in India are stabilising and on a steady increase. And this is a tremendous effort on the part of a lot of people, especially on the ground... (such as) the forest officials at the front line," said Ms Prerna Bindra, a wildlife conservationist.
"But conflicts are only going to increase as the issue remains unaddressed and we fragment tiger habitats - and they come out of small, islanded reserves into human populations," she added.