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Counting Tigers - A Survival Special

  • Episode:

    1 of 1

  • Transmission (TX):

    Tue 30 Jul 2019

  • TX Confirmed


  • Time

    9.00pm - 10.00pm

  • Week:

    Week 31 2019 : Sat 27 Jul - Fri 02 Aug

  • Channel:


  • Published:

    Wed 17 Jul 2019

This information contained herein is embargoed from press use, commercial and non-commercial reproduction and sharing into the public domain until Tuesday 23 July.


Counting Tigers - A Survival Special 


“India is a country that’s industrialising incredibly fast. There are roads and railways lines and industries everywhere you look, and of course, human needs will always come before those of wildlife. So, the tiger populations are being isolated more and more. So it’s becoming more difficult for the tiger to survive in this country. Every four years, India counts her tigers and we’re coming to the crux, the moment of truth when those figures are about to be released. So, will the numbers be up or will they be down?” - Martin Hughes-Games, wildlife campaigner


ITV’s groundbreaking Survival brand returns to the channel as Joanna Lumley narrates this one-hour special documentary based on exclusive access to India’s first-ever fully scientific tiger count.


The stakes could not be higher - there are now believed to be fewer than 4,000 wild tigers worldwide, and India is home to an estimated 60 per cent of those left. If India’s numbers are down this year, it could sound the death knell for this most iconic of predators.


Trophy hunters, poachers and basic human expansion have all devastated tiger populations by ravaging the habitats they live in. It is estimated that tiger numbers on the planet have decreased by more than 95 percent in the past century alone.


Currently, two tigers are killed every week by poachers, and often their cubs are left orphaned to fend for themselves in the wild with few making it to adulthood. Two abandoned cubs Bhandhav and Bhandavi were lucky to be adopted by a warden who became their surrogate parent and helped them get to 180 days old – a key age in terms of their survival.


Following the work of wardens and scientists across the beautiful landscapes of India, wildlife campaigner and conservationist Martin Hughes-Games tracks the new count from start to finish as it uses the latest technology to determine numbers.


Camera traps photograph more than 30,000 tiger images, their stripes, like fingerprints, used to identify each individual tiger, while special mobile phone mapping apps and DNA analysis are also employed.


Previously, says Dr Yadvendradev Jhala, who is in charge of the tally this time around, counts could be unreliable. He says: “The issue was that we had paper tigers, what you call political populations. Basically every country wants to say we are doing really well. And every officer who manages a park wants to show that I’ve done my work really well. And there was no way to count these animals with a reasonable scientific information.”


Martin also explores the tigers’ territory - as counting them can be a dangerous business. In the Mangrove swamps of Sunderbans, tigers have adapted to become lighter and more fleet of foot. Park wardens can easily become trapped in the muddy marshlands and become prey. More than 30 people die each year as a result of marshland tiger attacks.


He discovers that in at least one of India’s 50 conservation parks, the tiger is now tragically extinct, and can only hope some of the other parks have shown a growth in numbers to compensate.


Poachers usually capture an adult tiger by its paw in a trap with metal jaws, and while incapacitated the tiger is then skewered through the mouth and from behind, to avoid damaging the valuable fur. But poachers are not after the fur alone - there is a huge demand for tiger products in China and South East Asia.


Debbie Banks from the Environmental Investigation Agency explains the appeal for some of tiger products. She says:: “Almost every part of the tiger unfortunately has a value in the market. Skins are used as luxury home décor to put on the floor, on the wall, on the sofa. It’s a market that caters to those who want to show off their power, their wealth and their status. Tiger bone is used in medicine to treat rheumatism and arthritis, but it’s also used to make a tonic wine as a general bone-strengthening tonic. Is often purchased as a prestigious gift if you want to bribe an official or win a contract, you might gift a bottle of tiger bone wine. At some places it is sold as a virility product. Its teeth and claws, which are valued as jewellery items. Again non-essential, it’s all luxury. There’s absolutely no essential reason why a tiger body part should be traded.”


Once the count is complete, the documentary reveals whether the number has risen or fallen - a key moment for the survival of the species because if the count shows a decline then this could spell the end for the tiger in the wild, whereas an increase might indicate that this is one of the world’s most successful conservation stories.


Narrator: Joanna Lumley

Producer/Director: Upma Bhatnagar

Executive Producers : Manoj Bhatnagar & James Cohen


This is an Optimum Television production for ITV