Hyderabad: India may boast of having the most number of tigers in the world, but it is also losing the big cats in a big way. Numbers released by the Nation Tiger Conservation Authority show that the country lost 655 of the striped animals between 2012-18.
The alarming concern is that 319 tigers were killed in the six-year period. The figure includes 151 poaching cases, the seizure of body parts, which indicate killing, and death due to unnatural circumstances like rail or road accidents, drowning and electrocution. There were 336 deaths due to natural causes.
Madhya Pradesh with 142 tiger deaths topped the list, followed by Maharashtra at 107 and Karnataka's 99. As per a 2014 assessment, India has 2,226 tigers, which is 60 percent of the world’s tiger population.
There is no doubt the number of tigers has increased in the country, but very few cases of tiger mortality are reported, said Imran Siddiqui of Wildlife Conservation Society – India. Experts said the projected figure of tigers is always cumulative.
Siddique told NewsMeter, “Many tigers that die within the forest for natural reasons go undetected. Similarly, poachers will do their neat job and not reveal anything. They will take bones and skins also. Professional poachers, when they get caught, will claim they killed so many tigers, but they might have been caught for just one tiger. There is no way to know how many tigers have been killed by the poachers."
MP leads in poaching (34) and seizure (12), followed by Karnataka with 25 poaching and 10 seizure cases. Andhra Pradesh and Telangana reported six and 3 tiger deaths respectively in six years. At 121, the highest number of tigers died in 2016. It came down to 101 in 2018.
Except for some tiger reserves which provide better protection, there seems to be no comprehensive action plan for reducing tiger deaths in the country. Despite being declared tiger reserves parks like Palamav, Buxa, Kawal and Indravati are yet to be managed for tigers.
“Every tiger reserve has an issue. When high-profile places like Ranthambhore can lose its tigers overnight, which has happened in the past when more than 20 were killed, all tiger reserves are also vulnerable. The best example of this is the Pench-Kanha tiger corridor, where many tigers are dying due to conflict with humans. So one of the main reasons for the conflict is developmental projects. Despite so much opposition, they have made the road. Tigers get hit by vehicles, they turn man-eaters, cubs die on the road.” said Siddiqui.
Experts said tiger reserves and national parks should be exempted from routine development projects. Promotion of tourism and developmental work inside tiger reserves is another threat to the survival of the species. As per the Indian Institute of Forest Management Study, for every acre of a forest, tigers provide an ecosystem.
Climate control, water and resources are areas where nature should be allowed to function on its own said Siddique, wondering why the government can't keep aside a certain percentage of forests for tigers. "Tiger corridors are not being administered as tiger corridors. Why can’t we keep 2% of India? We are not ready to keep aside some park for nature’s functioning. Tigers are one of those animals which indicate the health of the ecosystem. If a tiger is there, it means all the rest is doing well. It is just an indicator of that.”