NEW DELHI, India, June 11, 2008 — -- Tigers are doing so well in one of India's top reserves that authorities have agreed to expand its boundary to give them a bigger area to roam, a rare piece of good news for a country struggling to save its big cat.
Better conservation efforts have led to a crowding of tigers at the Jim Corbett reserve, and the animals have begun straying into buffer zones from core areas, officials said.
The 1,300-square km (500-square mile) reserve at the Himalayan foothills now has 164 tigers, up almost 20 percent over the past five years. Other animal numbers are also up at the reserve.
"Tigers are a highly territorial animal and the young will move away from where they were born and carve out their own space," said Rajesh Gopal of the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
"If we cannot increase the carrying capacity of a reserve, which is easier said than done, there will be internal conflict and mutual killing of tigers."
To avoid this, the authorities have decided to expand Jim Corbett's buffer zone by 30 square km initially.
But Gopal said the challenge was to ensure the safety of spillover tigers that tend to get killed by poachers and villagers.
The success at Jim Corbett is a rare silver lining in an otherwise grim fight in India to save tigers from poachers and habitat destruction.
Poorly armed and badly paid guards, mismanagement and corruption undermine the protection of tigers in India. There are thought to be just 1,411 left in India, according to a new survey that cut numbers by half since 2002 census.
The decline is even more alarming considering India had about 40,000 tigers a century ago. Conservationists say it is unlikely the dwindling population will ever recover, but the government is not giving up just yet.
In January, India said it would spend an estimated $150 million to save its tigers over the next five years, using some of the money to shift villages and tribal communities out of tiger habitats.
Experts say wildlife planning needs to be much better. For instance, experts say around 300,000 of India's poorest people living in its 28 tiger reserves need to be shifted out because many of them help poachers kill tigers and cut down forests.
Globally tigers are also in trouble. World Bank President Robert Zoellick said in the United States on Monday that the worldwide number was less than 4,000 from over 100,000 a century ago.
He was speaking in relation to a new global initiative by the World Bank to save tigers from extinction.
(Editing by Jerry Norton)