In just 11 weeks of ’09, tiger count down by 17

NEW DELHI: India’s tiger count has dropped by at least 17 in the last 11 weeks since January 1. Poaching, poisoning, old age and infighting are the key reasons behind their deaths, say wildlife activists and forest officials.

The incidents have occurred all over India: from Manipur to Maharashtra to Uttar Pradesh. But statistics provided by NGO, Wildlife Protection Society of India, show that a majority of the deaths have taken place in Kanha Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh and Kaziranga National Park, Assam. In fact, officers from Wildlife Crime Control Bureau have already been dispatched to these reserves to carry out investigations.

Two big cats were found dead in Dhela range of Corbett Tiger Reserve on March 10 and 17 respectively. Forest officer MS Kunwar of Kalagarh says that the second incident was a result of territorial infighting. “Some portions of the dead tiger were eaten away by the tiger who had killed it. The other tiger died a week ago of old age,” he says.

Nonetheless, the confiscation of tiger body parts including 16 kgs of bones, two skulls and two paws by Army officials on the Myanmar border in February and the seizure of a fresh tiger skin in Katni the month before clearly shows that poachers continue to be active. Belinda Wright of Wildlife Protection Society of India says tigers are being killed because they are valued more dead, than alive. “Poachers make a lot of money by killing a tiger and selling its parts. Tiger parts are traded illegally, largely to feed the demand of a market in China,” she says.

Wildlife activists also feel that forest officials occasionally cover-up a tiger’s unnatural death by attributing it to a territorial fight. “There should be total transparency as a first step when tigers are killed,” says carnivore biologist Advait Edgaonkar. He believes that hiring and training more forest guards as well as involving locals in the protection of parks would go a long way in protecting the tiger.