India loses over 6% of its tiger population in 10 months
India has lost 6 per cent of its tiger population in 2016. Tiger experts calculate that from around 1,600 tigers, India has lost 110 tigers in the last 10 months, which is considered the highest loss in the last five years. Forty-three of these deaths have been caused by gangs of poachers operating in the forest areas.
Belinda Wright, who heads the Wildlife Protection Society of India, said, “The human-tiger conflict is on the rise because the tiger population is increasing.”
Wright said,”There is also widespread poaching for bush meat, which includes wild boar and deer. Poaching traps are being set up in the forests in which elephants and tigers get trapped. They are very susceptible because they have padded feet.”
“The enforcement authorities need to get much stricter on this issue and they need to come down with strong measures. The message must come from the top,” Wright, who is one of India’s foremost conservationists, added.
The Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), an NGO working in wildlife crime enforcement, has pointed out that the seizures made by the wildlife enforcement authorities included 225 kg of tiger bones, 15 skins, 56 kg of meat, besides claws, whiskers, skull and fat of the animal.
Uttarakhand, which shares its borders with Nepal, reported the highest seizures with 150 kg of tiger bones and six skins. In March-April this year, five tiger skins and 125 kg of bones were recovered from near Jim Corbett National Park. When the skins were sent for analysis to the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), the patterns were found to match those of the four missing tigers from the core of Corbett Park.
Tito Joseph, the programme manager of WPSI, warned that the situation had reached alarming proportions primarily because the same gangs of poachers continue to operate with impunity in the same areas.
Joseph said, “These poaching gangs operate in specific areas. They strike, kill, lie low for some months and then strike again. In order to control widespread poaching, we need to have target-oriented monitoring.”
The maximum number of tiger deaths – 25 – have been reported from Madhya Pradesh. These include seven cases of poaching. The majority of 19 tiger deaths were reported from Pench and Kanha tiger reserves. Nine tigers have died in Kanha this year while ten died in Pench.
Incidentally, tiger mortality occurred more in protected areas and not in territorial forest divisions raising serious questions on the country’s anti-poaching efforts. Thirty-two tigers were “found dead” this year — a category that includes mortality due to unexplained circumstances, disease or old age. Cases of infighting have also gone up to 22 as compared to 17 last year.
Three tigers were shot dead or killed in various instances of man-tiger conflicts and the same number died in road and train accidents. Joseph has all along maintained that `intelligence gathering activities’ against poaching networks needs to be improved especially since this is a fight against transnational crime syndicates.
Tito blames the state authorities for this situation as can be illustrated by the example of the death of an adult tiger which was electrocuted last week at Central Chandrapur Forest Division in Maharashtra. The tiger carcass was located with the help of a dog squad and exhumed from a three-feet-deep pit from an agricultural field. Seven people have been arrested for burying the tiger and not informing the authorities. In another case, a tiger was found dead in Bandhavgarh some weeks ago. This is the fifth tiger death in Bandhavgarh and 25th in Madhya Pradesh this year.
Further, two tiger skins and 35 kg of bones were seized in January from the Valmiki Tiger Reserve near the Bihar-Nepal border in January this year. Subsequent investigations unearthed three tiger poaching incidents. Interrogation of the poachers revealed how they had buried a large amount of tiger meat in a nearby pit. This took the total poaching toll to five in this area while the tiger skin was traced to Kathmandu later.
Tiger experts also hold the NTCA responsible for this slide. Dr Goverdhan Rathore cites the example of how a large number of tigers were killed in 2012, again due to poachers, but in no instance were the chief wildlife warden, the district police or the civil administration held responsible for this dire negligence.
Rathore cites the example of Ranthambore tiger sanctuary which can presently boast of a population of more than sixty sanctuaries. “We have sent tigers to the Bharatpur sanctuary and to other sanctuaries. This has happened because of the synergy between the forest authorities and the local NGOs. Without the involvement of the local people, it is impossible to save our wildlife,” said Rathore.