India's latest tiger census shows a sharp increase in the number of the endangered cats in the wild, raising hopes that conservation efforts are working, officials said today. The census conducted in 2014 found at least 2,226 tigers in forests across the country, up from 1,706 counted in 2010. Environment minister Prakash Javadekar described the figure as a huge success story and said it was the result of sustained conservation efforts. "While the tiger population is falling in the world, it is rising in India. This is great news," Javadekar told journalists in New Delhi. Tigers in India have been threatened by rampant poaching and shrinking habitats from deforestation caused by the country's rapid industrialization and economic development.
Javadekar said that more than 9,700 cameras were used in the massive count and that the results are the most accurate in the past few decades. "Never before has such an exercise been taken. We have unique photographs of 80% of the tigers" in the wild, he said. Officials said nearly 146,000 square miles of forest area in 18 states were surveyed. A century ago, an estimated 100,000 tigers roamed India's forests. Their numbers declined steadily till the 1970s, when India banned tiger hunting and created special reserves and protected areas in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Conservation efforts began to pay off around 2010 when tiger numbers began to rise. India faces intense international scrutiny over its tiger conservation efforts as it has nearly three-fourths of the world's estimated 3,200 tigers. (Read more tigers stories.)