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 on Monday (July 29) showed the tiger population had increased by one third to 2,967 from four years ago.
"With around 3,000 tigers, India has emerged as of 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 figure showed that it was possible to strike a balance between conservation and development.
A tiger census is carried out every four years and the latest one covered 381,400 square km of forested habitat in what was dubbed as the biggest tiger count exercise in the world
Trap cameras were deployed in 26,838 locations, surveys conducted on foot by forest authorities across 522,996 km and satellite imagery across 50 tiger reserves across the country were studied.
There are only around 4,000 tigers in the world with India home to over 70 per cent of the big cats.
The South Asian country is home to 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.
Tiger numbers have been climbing in India for some time, up from 1,706 in 2010 to 2,226 tigers in 2014.
But the pressure of development, including the building of roads, electricity and railway lines through tiger reserves, and growing human population are putting pressure on their habitats and increasing the chances of human-animal encounters.
Conservationists have welcomed the new data but 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 (WPSI).
"On one hand, there is an increase in numbers but the threats are also increasing. We have to make sure that areas that are protected tiger habitat are sacrosanct and intrusion not be allowed. In particular linear intrusions like roads, canals, electric lines, railways... disturb tigers and prey species, increasing human-animal conflict."
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 populated state. There are 173 tigers in Uttar Pradesh, the latest census showed.
"It's great to see that tigers 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.. the forest officials on 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.