Plight of Tigers Greater Than Expected

In the salty, muddy swamps of India's Ganges Delta, local rangers keep their guns at the ready, as the mangrove forest is home to more Bengal tigers than any other place on earth -- or so they believed.

The managers of the Sunderbans Nature Reserve have claimed there are 250 tigers in the area, but a new, better count indicates there are just 60 remaining in the wildlife sanctuary.

To wildlife groups this information is an additional bad blow for a species already in great danger.

How could such a mistake happen? Because in this very poor corner of the world all they can do is count tigers' footprints and from that make an educated guess.

"It's very easy to confuse the footprints of two tigers, just like it would be to confuse the footprints of two people walking on the beach," said Eric Dinerstein of the World Wildlife Fund.

Shrinking Habitat

No two tigers have the same pattern of stripes, but every tiger on the planet faces the same threat to its survival: hunters, poachers and civilization's voracious appetite for their natural habitat.

Tigers are being hunted to death. Their body parts, used as folk medicine, are a giant business in the Far East. These wild animals are also going hungry as hunters kill the animals food supply.

A new report commissioned by the Save the Tiger Fund presents additional concerns about the tiger population, stating big cats reside in 40 percent less habitat than was believed a decade ago.

"If we do not do something concrete and have a strong political will … then I would say it is a crisis for tigers," said Mahendra Shrestha of the Save the Tigers Fund.

The conservation group is recommending a series of strategies to preserve tigers and want to remind people that even in a very troubled world, there is room for these animals.