Home to more than half the world's Asian tiger population, India has seen the deaths of 274 tigers in the last four years alone.
While the 2014 tiger population census results this month will reveal more, the tiger deaths totalling 17% of the tiger population, announced in parliament raise many issues regarding the lack of serious efforts to protect this keystone species.
Only 82 tigers died due to natural reasons and more than 70% of tiger deaths were due to poaching or unidentified reasons, reports Down to Earth.
However, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) isn't too concerned by the alarming figures. Its deputy inspector general S P Yadav believes the deaths could be compensated if tiger births are considered.
"Here, we are not taking tiger births into account. An adult tigress can give birth to younger ones every 90 days. If of 4-5 litters that a tigress gives birth to, even 1-2 survive, these numbers can be compensated," he said.
Besides the nature of death, the other alarming aspect of the reported deaths is that almost half were reported from outside tiger reserves. Not more than a dozen of these were attributed to natural reasons.
Buffer zone policy?
Experts have been calling attention to the need to address the mortality of tigers outside tiger reserves. There is no policy at present to address habitat destruction, human-tiger conflicts and poaching in the regions surrounding reserves, or the buffer zones where sizeable numbers of tiger populations thrive.
A recent incident, where in a tiger was captured after the death of a woman killed by a tiger (but not eaten) highlights this issue. The tiger was a two-year cub at the dispersion age (when it is weaned off by the mother and left on its own) and was caught when following a vehicle in an estate at Chikmaglur in Karnataka state.
The tiger was later radio-collared and released in another reserve, raising questions among activists and experts on the wisdom of the move. For one, there was no direct proof the tiger was the one that killed the woman. At least two other tigers have been sighted in the area, skirting a reserve forest.
Second, if it had killed a human, what if it did again? Finally, a healthy cub is so rare and few in between dwindling numbers. What about the trauma it undergoes in being displaced to a new territory with its own resident tigers?
Uncontrolled encroaching by estates and resorts around many of India's national parks threaten the survival of the few hundred Asian tigers left.
The new government has been reconstituting many environment bodies in its eagerness to clear developmental projects. Construction of roads through parks has in one case endangered the largest breeding site of flamingos in Asia.
The review panel asked to suggest changes in environment laws has suggested shrinking the no-go area for mining by removing prime wildlife corridors, among other regions.
While habitat loss over the previous few decades is a primary reason for tigers dying out – 93% of their forest territories has been destroyed – poaching is the other major reason for tiger populations falling from approximately 100,000 in the 1910s to present figures.
According to the 2010 census, India had approximately 1,706 tigers (between the lower limit of 1,520 and upper limit of 1,909).
Found primarily in India with smaller populations in Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China and Myanmar, there are believed to be less than 3000 left in the wild though unofficial estimates place this at 1600.