After decades of watching a dwindling tiger population with trepidation, India celebrated a surprising 30% rise in their numbers when the results of the latest tiger census were announced in January this year. The countrywide tiger head count found that there were 2,666 animals, up from 1,700 in 2010 and a major improvement on the all-time low of 1,411 in 2006.

But the increased numbers still don’t mean that threats to tigers are going away. Across the country, tiger reserves – and more of them are being declared every year – remain theatres of conflict that threaten the national animal.

Poaching continues

Four tigers in Kerala’s Periyar Tiger Reserve are suspected to have died at the hands of poachers this year. In all, 34 wild tigers have died in the seven months of 2015, according to the National Tiger Conservation Authority. All these tigers may not have been killed by humans, but here’s some perspective on that number.

A similar number of wild tigers died in the first half of 2014. Sixty-six wild tigers died during the course of that year, of which only eight were confirmed natural deaths – either of old age or in fights with other tigers. This year too, among the nine wild tiger deaths in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, eight are suspected poaching cases.

A highway running through Pench

A proposal of the National Highways Authority of India to widen a highway through Maharashtra’s Pench tiger reserve by felling trees along 27 kilometres has fallen afoul of the National Green Tribunal. Although the Bombay High Court backed the NHAI’s move and directed the NTCA to comply with the NHAI’s request, the green tribunal has stayed the order.

The zone of contention is one of the most important tiger corridors in the country. If the project disrupts the movement of tigers across this corridor, it could lead to insular tiger populations that will be less healthy.

The NTCA has expressed its worry about major tiger corridors being threatened by proposed dilutions to the Forest Rights Act, especially provisions to ease forest clearances by bypassing consent of gram sabhas.

Drowning out tiger habitats

The Andhra Pradesh government seems to be forging ahead with the Polavaram dam project on the Godavari river. The dam aims to irrigate 3,00,000 hectares of farm land and generate 960 MW of power. But at the same time, it is expected to not only displace 200,000 people and affect 300 villages but also submerge tiger habitats.

Similarly, the Ken-Betwa river-linking project threatens the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh. The Ken-Betwa plan threatens to cut the area of the park available to tigers by one-tenth after submerging more than 4,000 hectares of the reserve, according to the Environmental Impact Assessment report of the project.

No more tigers in Buxa?

Analysis of the nationwide tiger census revealed that the Buxa tiger reserve may have no tigers left. Wildlife Institute of India scientists who were tracking the animals based on scat-based DNA tests said they didn’t see any sign of tigers in the north Bengal park.

Previous counts showed that Buxa has 20 tigers, but this data may also be sketchy. The methods of identifying tigers by their scat or by photographs in the dense Buxa forests have left big question marks about when and how its tiger population disappeared. The problems in Buxa seem to be a skewed gender ratio with too few female tigers and a poor prey population that’s not enough to sustain the tiger population.