21 tigers dead in just 65 days. 2017 could well be a very bad year for India's tigers

Updated: Mar 08, 2017, 20:47 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav |

Still reeling from 99 tigers deaths reported across the country in 2016, the forest department braces for an ominous future with a disappointing 2017 with Jan-Feb figures that are horrifying

The big cat's future looks grim. As per data compiled by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), a statutory body under the ministry of environment and forests, and uploaded on Tigernet -- the NTCA's official database that serves as a directory of tigers and other wildlife mortality -- the country lost 21 Royal Bengal tigers in the first 65 days of this year.

Contrast that with 19 deaths in the corresponding period (January 1-March 6) last year. The highest number of deaths this year was reported from Karnataka (9), followed by four in Uttarakhand. Maharashtra trailed with three tiger deaths.

The uptick in the number of deaths in such a short period is worrying since last year saw the highest tiger deaths -- 99 -- in six years.

Alarming trend
Twenty-one of the 99 tigers died of natural causes, 12 died in territorial fights, five were poisoned, one each died in road/rail accidents and drowned, and two each were killed in man-animal conflicts, electrocuted and poached. The causes of deaths of 52 others are still awaited.

Of the 21 deaths this year, three were caused during territorial fights with other tiger(s) and one by electrocution. One tiger died of natural causes. The reasons behind the 16 other deaths are not yet known.

A retired forest department official said ascertaining the cause of death could be delayed since investigations could still be underway. “The data uploaded on Tigernet is the most accurate since it comes directly from the NTCA”

In 2016, Madhya Pradesh reported the highest deaths (30), followed by 17 in Karnataka and 15 in Maharashtra.

Forest department officials have made even more disconcerting findings. They have seized body parts of three tigers (such as pelt, teeth and claws). During the same period last year, body parts of four tigers were recovered.

Focus on tiger corridors
Wildlife conservationists recommend keeping a hawk eye on tiger corridors. Conservationist and wildlife photographer Nayan Khanolkar said the focus shouldn't be just on tiger habitats, but also critically important tiger corridors. “The active participation of local communities that stay around protected areas is necessary for conservation. When local villagers and communities are involved, the forest department can get crucial information and tip-offs about poachers and others dangers to the big cat.”

Sarosh Lodhi from Conservation Lenses and Wildlife, an independent group of wildlife lovers and photographers, said more dedicated efforts are needed to save tiger corridors. “Emphasis should also be placed on protecting areas that fall in territorial and buffer zones, given the number of tigers that make them their home.”

Kedar Gore, director of Corbett Foundation, lauded the forest department's conservation efforts, but cautioned that it isn't enough. “It's important to protect tiger corridors between national parks and tiger reserves because many tigers stay in buffer zones and outside protected areas. Officials should also ensure that there are ample tiger preys along the corridors and that forests bordering protected areas are conserved as well. The forest department should also work in close coordination with the police to address poaching.”

Population growth
At the third Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation last year, then Union Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change Prakash Javdekar had said that the India’s tiger population had grown from 2,226 in 2014 to around 2,500.

Project Tiger
Project Tiger, a tiger conservation programme, was launched on April 1, 1973, after the population fell below 300 in nine tiger reserves. It is the largest species conservation initiative of its kind in the world.

Jai, the missing tiger

Jai, the big daddy of Umred Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary in Nagpur district that sired 20 cubs in two years, has been missing since April 2016. Pic/ Amit Panariya
Jai, the big daddy of Umred Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary in Nagpur district that sired 20 cubs in two years, has been missing since April 2016. Pic/ Amit Panariya

Sept 2013: Three-year-old Jai travels over 100 km to reach the Umred Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary in Nagpur district; sires 20 cubs

Sept 2015: He is fitted with a radio collar; the gadget develops a snag the following January

April 18, 2016: He goes missing after being fitted with a new collar; radio collar stops relaying signals

July-Aug: Former Bhandara sarpanch and two shepherds in the same region claim to have spotted a huge radio-collared tiger

Jan 2017: Tree-member NTCA team visits Nagpur and begins investigation; questions officials from the Umred Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary as well as locals around inhabiting the fringes of the protected area

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