By Prasenjit Bhattacharya
Tiger deaths in India have increased more than 35% this year, at a time when saving the country's national animal has become a priority not only among conservationists but also the media, such as NDTV's Save the Tiger campaign.
Forty-five tiger deaths have been reported so far this year to Aug. 6th, against 33 for the same period in 2011, according to latest data compiled by the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
The northern state of Uttarakhand, which topped tiger deaths in 2011, has reported the second-highest number of mortalities this year too.
So far this year, Madhya Pradesh, India's largest state by area, has reported eight tiger fatalities, while Uttarakhand had seven deaths. But given that Uttarakhand is a much-smaller state, the large number of tiger deaths have raised concern.
National Tiger Conservation Authority deputy-director S.P. Yadav said many states were reporting unusually high numbers of deaths as due to natural causes, raising suspicions. “We have issued an advisory to state governments asking them to treat any tiger death as poaching related, unless ruled out by a post-mortem where one of the authority's representatives are present,” he said.
India has had some success in recent years in stopping the deaths of tigers. Mr. Yadav said the number of tigers has risen 21% since 2008, to 1,706 from 1,411.
In some ways, this success could be leading to the greater numbers of deaths. Mr. Yadav said the rise in population is making many tigers stray out of protected forest reserves and into forest areas where patrolling by park authorities is lax, making them easier prey for poachers. “We are now trying to increase funding for patrolling in all forest areas, not just reserves,” he added.
Khalid Pasha, associate director with Traffic India, said there seems to have been increased poaching in and around areas surrounding the famed Corbett Tiger Reserves in Uttarakhand.
Mr. Pasha said a tiger skeleton and skin was discovered last week during a raid by law enforcement agencies in Gurgaon, a satellite town near Delhi. “It's believed the tiger was killed around the Corbett area.”
He said it's quite puzzling how well-funded tiger reserves, which have electronic cameras, metal detectors for traps and thermal sensors could still be vulnerable to poaching.
Wildlife experts also say that tiger-populated forests in India share 111 kilometers of their borders with the Himalayan country of Nepal, often a route taken by poachers to carry off tiger remains.
“We must remember tigers are killed in forests, but the killers live outside the forests. Conservation efforts can be successful only when law enforcement agencies co-operate in catching these criminals,” Mr. Pasha added.
Both the officials India Real Time spoke to didn't comment on whether banning tourists from entering the core reserves of tiger sanctuaries is going to help cut down poaching, as the matter is still pending with the Supreme Court of India.
Many states, such as Madhya Pradesh, have opposed the move, saying it will lead to unemployment in those areas dependent on tourists, as well as deter new investments from coming in.
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