Protecting tiger habitat and tiger corridors is a priority for the country, according to India’s tiger action plan (2012 to 2018) released on Monday. The latter is especially important because, while the country has seen an increase in total tiger population with numbers going up from 1,411 in 2006 to 1,706 in 2010 and 2,226 in 2014, it recorded a 12.6% decline in tiger occupancy in connecting tiger habitats outside tiger reserves between 2006 and 2010, the latest period for which this data is available.The data is borne out by the fact that there have been several instances of tigers being killed while traversing so-called corridors that link their habitats. In November last year, three six-month old cubs were run over by a train in Maharashtra’s Chandrapur district. Most corridors are under threat from road and rail networks.The action plan didn’t release data on the decline in tiger population outside protected areas for 2014 but experts said this number continues to fall. In 2006, the total area under tiger occupancy was 93,697 sq km ; this declined to 81,906 in 2010 and improved to about 89,200 sq km in 2014. This was mostly because of higher tiger numbers recorded in parts of Uttarakhand.The main reasons for this decline is degradation of forest areas outside protected areas, fragmentation of forests leading to a loss of gene flow from source populations, loss of forest quality due to decline in prey biomass, tiger deaths due to man-animal conflict, poaching, and disturbance due to infrastructure and other projects, the tiger action plan said. The plan was published in the fourth edition of Global Tiger Action Plan — “Action Tiger” — released on Monday at the 3rd Stock Taking Conference on Tiger Conservation. The tiger census 2018 estimations, likely to be released on March 31, may see an increase in overall tiger numbers and also not offer any trends on their numbers in corridors because it follows a different methodology. “We have changed our methodology quite a bit. Tiger numbers are likely to increase because we have added a few tiger reserves and we have zeroed in on areas where tiger presence is likely and eliminated areas where there is no tiger presence. So, this decline in tiger occupancy in corridors may not be recorded this time,” said Amit Mallick, inspector general of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). He added that India will continue implementing policies and priorities from the same action plan. Still, India has changed its approach to tiger conservation to focus on the corridors, the document explains. It adds that now India prioritises “source-sink dynamics” (how variation in habitat quality may affect the population of tigers) by restoring habitat connectivity. This includes providing incentives to local people for conserving forests along tiger corridors and providing subsidised LPG connections to people to reduce dependence on timber from forest. The action plan also states that buffer zones connected to forests are important because they absorb the shock from poaching and habitat depletion, and foster subadults, young adults, and old members of the tiger population. “Tigers need large areas. As per our modelling, an ideal tiger population is 20 adult tigresses which will need about 1,000 sq km. This is available in only five to six reserves in India such as Sunderbans [India and Bangladesh combined], Corbett, the contiguous stretch of Bandipur, Nagarhole and Mudumalai reserves. However its absolutely must that all tiger habitats, reserves are connected with each other to ensure a functional habitat. It’s needed not just for the tiger but all other wildlife,” said Qamar Qureshi, wildlife biologist at Wildlife Institute of India (WII). The action plan added that between 2012 and 2018, Ratapani in Madhya Pradesh, and Sunabeda in Odisha have been approved as location for two new tiger reserves by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). Approvals have also been given to Kudremukh in Karnataka, Rajaji in Uttarakhand and Bor in Maharashtra for creation of tiger reserves. Suhelwa in Uttar Pradesh, Mhadei in Goa, Megamalai wildlife sanctuary in Tamil Nadu and Dibang sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh are also being considered as possible tiger reserves. There are 46 tiger reserves in the country currently. The Action Tiger report has action plans for 13 tiger range countries which includes new and updated plans for Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal which also has significance for India because of cross-border tiger corridors.