At the turn of the century, it is estimated that there were more than 40000 tigers in India alone, which declined to roughly 1800 in 1972. Considering this drastic fall in its number, efforts were put to launch Project Tiger, worldwide.
Project Tiger was launched on April 1, 1973 on the basis of the recommendations of a special task force of the Indian Board for Wildlife with the following main objectives:
1. To ensure maintenance of a viable population of tiger in India for scientific, economic, aesthetic cultural and ecological values.
2. To preserve, for all times, the areas of such biological importance as a national heritage for the benefit, education and enjoyment of the people.
Initially 9 Tiger Reserves were created. At present, there are 27 Tiger Reserves spread over in 17 States and covering an area of about 37,761 sq. km.
The subsequent effort of conservation of Project Tiger saw a rise in the number of tigers over the decade and the 1989 census indicated a population of over 4000 in the Indian sub-continent. The population in the 18 tiger reserves being 1327. However the 1993 census showed the population in India as above 3750 and the same in 23 tiger reserves as 1366, indicating that the tiger population had declines during the 1989-1993, including decreasing of the population in 11 of the 18 reserves.
In the early part of the current century, the decline in the tiger population in the country was primarily due to hunting which was allowed before 1970. A total ban on hunting, both at the national and international levels, was implementation and anti poaching measures led to a steady recovery of the species in the 70s and 80s. Since 1991, it was noticed that tiger bones were more in demand than skin. Poached tiger skins are left behind in the forests, but the bones are taken away. This has posed a new threat to tigers in India. This new challenge has reversed some of the successes of the measures initiated in the late 1970s and 80s, as a result of which the tiger population declined during 1989-99.