Recovery of tigers in India: critical introspection and potential lessons.
1. In a world where biodiversity is on the decline, examples of conservation success especially of large carnivores are of interest to policy makers and conservation practitioners. Herein, we elucidate the conservation actions that have been responsible for the recovery of tigers and their ecosystems in India; a feat many range countries are struggling to achieve. 2. Demand-driven poaching resulted in extinctions at two prestigious Tiger Reserves. India's Prime Minister constituted a Tiger Task Force that led to the formation of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, scientific monitoring of tiger populations and incentivized voluntary relocation of human settlements from tiger reserves. Tiger Conservation Plans, cognizant of constraints imposed by small reserves embedded in human land uses, aimed to create source populations within tiger reserves with corridor links between sources and to sink habitats. Metapopulation management enhanced occupancy and long-term viability of tiger populations. Tiger Protection Force and technology like MSTrIPES, E-eye and drones effectively reduced poaching. Community support was attempted through profit sharing, mitigating human-tiger conflict with a fast, fair and transparent compensation process and removal of problem tigers. Reintroduction and reinforcement of tigers and prey assisted natural recovery. Political will ensured resources. 3. Tigers were monitored using Spatially Explicit Capture-Recapture with camera traps and ecological covariates. In 2018-2019 from 381,000 km2 of tiger habitat, 89,000 km2 was occupied. Currently, 50 tiger reserves cover 72,750 km2 and harbour 65% of India's ~3,000 tigers. Tiger reserves are managed with an annual investment of ~1,000 USD/km2 with one staff per 6.5 km2. Tiger reserves were regularly evaluated for Management Effectiveness. Tiger reserves were valued to have benefit flows between 76,900 and 292,300 US$ km-2year-1. 4. In the Anthropocene it is unlikely that tigers will survive without targeted conservation investments. Political commitment and resources can become available for conservation when people and tigers benefit simultaneously. Conscious balance by governments between development for rapid economic prosperity and long-term ecological security will ensure that wild tigers and their intact ecosystems will survive for future generations.