With over 100,000 tigers in the wild a hundred years ago, we are left with as few as 3,890 today.
Since past three years, the large number of tiger deaths is a matter of grave concern for India. Recently, three orphaned tiger cubs suspiciously died either due to ‘Parvovirus’ or ‘Carbo virus’ in Bandhavgarh National Park. Similarly, a tiger which was partially paralysed after being shot by poachers died in Madhya Pradesh.
In last 16 months, an official Database of the National Tiger Conservation Authority ‘Tigernet’, reported 134 tiger deaths in India, where 99 deaths occurred in 2016, while 35 tigers died in first four months of 2017.
India is home to 70% of the tiger population in the world, with 2226 tigers in the country, as per the assessment of the Status of Tigers, Co-predators and Prey, 2014.
In the first four months of 2017, the official number of tiger death was 35, with Karnataka witnessing the highest number of deaths in the country, 11, in just four months. Madya Pradesh was a close second with 8 deaths, excluding the 3 tiger cubs that recently died.
According to the recent government data provided in Parliament on ‘Increase In Tiger Deaths’, the number of deaths, including seizures, reported in the country during the last three years are 79 (2014), 81 (2015) and 121(2016). Since 2014, India has lost a total of 316 tigers. In 2016, Madhya Pradesh reported the highest numbers of tiger death, 32, followed by Karnataka (17), and Maharastra (16).
Tigers face an unrelenting threat from poaching, infighting, retaliatory killings, habitat loss, train and road accidents, and electrocution. They are forced to compete for space with the dense and often growing human populations.
Across their range, tigers face unrelenting pressures from poaching, infighting, retaliatory killings, habitat loss, train and road accidents and electrocution. They are forced to compete for growing human populations.
In 2016 alone, tiger deaths by confirmed poaching, including seizures, were 31, while 42 deaths remain under scrutiny, out of which confirmed poaching, including seizures, caused 21 and 19 deaths in 2015 and 14 respectively.
The big cat is not only dying inside tiger reserves but India’s national animal also suffers in the wild due to habitat loss.
Government steps taken so far
The Indian government has taken measures to curb tiger deaths, however, the steps remain futile as the animal continues to die, especially due to unnatural causes.
Responding to a question whether the poachers involved in killings tigers in various reserves in Madhya Pradesh, the government said in the parliament that 46 culprits have been apprehended in crimes related to tiger poaching during the last two years and are undergoing trials in different courts.
However, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has issued an advisory that all tiger deaths will be treated as poaching until and unless proved otherwise. Therefore, all the tiger mortality cases are examined by states for ascertaining the cause of death through forensic, toxicological, ballistic (if required), pathological examinations besides conducting post-mortem by a team of veterinarians in the presence of representatives of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, Chief Wildlife Warden and local body.
All the tiger mortality cases in the country are examined by states for ascertaining the cause of death through forensic, toxicological, ballistic (if required), and pathological examinations, besides conducting post-mortem by a team of veterinarians in the presence of National Tiger Conservation Authority representative, the Chief Wildlife Warden and a local body.
Last year, three tigers died in a train accident in Madhya Pradesh. The central government claimed in the parliament that “chief wildlife wardens of elephant and tiger ranges in states were directed to put their frontline forest staff on high alert and take suitable preventive actions to minimise death/injury to elephants and other wild animals due to train accidents.”
However, central and various state governments failed to prevent unnatural deaths of tigers caused by train and road accidents.
Funds allocated to protect the dwindling tiger population
The government says that funding assistance has been provided to tiger range states under the centrally sponsored Scheme of ‘Project Tiger’. Funds allocated/released under the project to tiger range states during the last three years are 154.8 crore (2015-16s, 175.0 crore (2014-15) and 172.0 (2013-14) crore, but amount utilised by the states are 131.1 crore (2015-16), 122.8 crore (2014-15) and 130.5 crore(2013-14).
Preventive steps against poaching
The central government says that they have taken steps to discourage pervasive poaching (of tigers) and habitat losses.
“The Government of India, through Project Tiger / National Tiger Conservation Authority, has taken a number of initiatives towards tiger conservation, which has resulted in substantial growth in tiger number. These, inter alia, include creation of Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF), All India Tiger, Co-Predators and Prey Estimation and Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) of Tiger Reserves done once in every four years, implementation of a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for dealing with tiger deaths, straying of tigers, active management towards rehabilitation of tigers from source areas at landscape level and other aspects, e-surveillance project in some of the identified tiger reserves and intensification of international cooperation to control trans-boundary illegal trade in wildlife etc.”
- Providing assistance to States under the Centrally Sponsored Scheme of “Project Tiger” for protection, infrastructure and antipoaching operations (including deployment of Tiger Protection Force and Special Tiger Protection Force)
- Providing grant through NTCA for patrolling in tiger-rich sensitive forest areas outside tiger reserves
- Alerting the States as and when required
- Transmitting backward / forward linkages of information relating to poachers
- Advising the States for combing forest floor to check snares/traps
- Performing supervisory field visits through the National Tiger Conservation Authority and its regional offices
- Using information technology for improved surveillance (e-Eye system) using thermal cameras
- Launching tiger reserve level monitoring using camera trap to keep a photo ID database of individual tigers
- Preparing a national database of individual tiger photo captures to establish linkage with body parts seized or dead tigers
- Assisting States to refine protection oriented monitoring through monitoring system for tiger’s intensive protection and ecological status (M-STrIPES)
- Assisting States to deploy local workforce in a big way for protection to complement the efforts of field staff [In all, approximately 25 lakh mandays are generated annually with 50% central assistance amounting to around Rs. 25 crores (excluding matching 50% share given by States) under Project Tiger.
- Many local tribes constitute such local workforce (besides non-tribals), eg. Baigas, Gonds in Madhya Pradesh, Gonds in Maharashtra, Chenchus in Andhra Pradesh, Sholigas in Karnataka, Gujjars in Uttarakhand and Irulas in Tamil Nadu to name a few.
- Initiative taken for collaboration of National Tiger Conservation Authority and Wildlife Crime Control Bureau towards an online tiger/wildlife crime tracking/reporting system in tiger reserves and to coordinate with INTERPOL for checking trans-border trade of wildlife products.
- Raising, arming and deploying of Special Rhino Protection Force in the lines of Special Tiger Protection Force for Kaziranga Tiger Reserve.
- Insurance / Corpus Fund for the staff of Kaziranga Tiger Reserve.
- Motivating tiger reserve administration/tiger States to ensure the conviction of criminals through the pursuance of cases in different courts.
- Bilateral co-operation with neighboring countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan.
- Sharing of information on the seizure of body parts including skin of tigers among tiger range countries to ascertain source area. India made a proposal in this regard in CITES CoP-17 in Johannesburg which was agreed by member countries.
Despite the above-mentioned measures, tiger deaths due to unnatural causes have not reduced. Human interactions with the wild cat are responsible for the different viral diseases and accidental death of the tigers in their natural habitats.