The latest count of the world's tigers reveals that conservation groups deserve congratulations, though it's not entirely clear what for. Tiger numbers in the wild worldwide are up after more than a century of drastic declines, which the AP reports can mean one of two things: There are more tigers out there, or conservationists are getting better at counting tigers. (National Geographic notes that in addition to estimates, "rigorous national surveys" were conducted this time around.) Either way, the global count of 3,890 tigers in the wild is welcome news after 2010's record low of 3,200, which was down from an estimated 100,000 in 1900. "More important than the absolute numbers is the trend, and we're seeing the trend going in the right direction," says World Wildlife Fund official Ginette Hemley.
The WWF says that tiger numbers are going up in India, Russia, Nepal, and Bhutan. The picture is worse in Southeast Asia; tigers have vanished in Cambodia and an estimated dozen are left across all of China and Vietnam, according to the WWF, which notes that there are more tigers in captivity in the US alone than there are in the wild. After 2010's all-time low, governments and conservationists teamed up to try to double wild tiger numbers by 2022. "When you have high-level political commitments, it can make all the difference," Hemley says. "When you have well-protected habitat and you control the poaching, tigers will recover. That's a pretty simple formula. We know it works." As far as poaching goes, the WWF points out that there is an illegal market for every bit of a tiger, "from whisker to tail." (In terms of tigers in captivity, this tiger was recently killed by her mating partner at a California zoo.)