The Times of India reported earlier this month as many as 76 tiger deaths were reported in the country from January to October this year, with Madhya Pradesh at the top of the list, accounting for nearly a third of all mortalities. Karnataka, which boasts the highest tiger population among states, was second with 13 deaths.
The national mortality figure is the highest since 2010; 69 tiger deaths were reported in the whole of 2015. Conservationists raised the alarm on poaching, given the rise in cases of seizure of tiger body parts across the country this year.
Twenty seizures were registered in the country till November, also the highest since 2010. One such seizure was made last month in Gondia district in Maharashtra.
The data was released by ‘tigernet,’ a collaborative effort of the National Tiger Conservation Authority and TRAFFIC-India. While 41 of the 76 deaths are still being investigated, the remaining have been attributed to direct or indirect human intervention—including poaching, poisoning, electrocution, road accidents and elimination by authorities—besides tigers attacking each other and natural causes.
Shekhar Kumar Niraj, head of TRAFFIC India, a wildlife trade monitoring network, said, “We usually witness a high incidence of poaching from August to November every year, though the reasons for this trend are unknown.”
“The situation this year seems far more grim as there has been an almost 10% increase in tiger mortalities and an over 150% increase in seizures since last year.”
“The Tadoba and Melghat regions of Maharashtra have always been more prone to tiger poaching. Maharashtra shares its border with Madhya Pradesh, where tiger mortalities and cases of poaching are the highest. The Nagpur region is known for cases of illegal trade of wildlife body parts,” he said.
Experts say the growing number of seizures could also mean that the government’s intelligence gathering is becoming more sophisticated, which has helped trap more poachers. Debi Goenka, founder of NGO Conservation Action Trust, said tiger habitats in the country were under tremendous pressure. “There have been some success stories where tigers are breeding well which has helped increase their count, but this has happened in isolated pockets and not in all sanctuaries. In the case of saturated reserves, cubs move out to look for their own territory and become vulnerable to poaching and road accidents,” he said.
Goenka said the forest department’s practice of upgrading posts has led to a decline in the number of forest guards manning reserves for tiger protection. “Upgrading certain posts means that the job once handled by somebody much younger now has to be done by an older official of a higher rank. Such officials cannot really exert much energy. Department headquarters are closer to cities, where other officials often have to attend meetings. Fewer officials are thus left for protection work in reserves far away from the city,” he said.