By Krishnendu Mukherjee
Poaching of tigers in 2013 has been the highest in the past seven years, data compiled by the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) shows. The seizure of two more tiger skins from Bijrani area of Corbett Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand on Monday has taken this year's figure to 39 as against 31 last year.
While the total number of tiger deaths at 76 is less compared to last year's 89, the number of poaching cases has shot up much to the dismay of conservationists.
In 2005, the country had recorded 46 cases of poaching. "In 2006, 37 tigers were poached in the country. This year's figure thus is the highest in last seven years," said WPSI programme coordinator Tito Joseph.
Interestingly, the number of tiger deaths compiled by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in collaboration with Traffic-India is much less than the WPSI figure. The NTCA record stands at 66 deaths so far for 2013. Even the number of seizures for the year stands only at 5.
Questioning the official data, eminent wildlife conservationist Valmik Thapar said the job of compiling figures on tiger mortality should always be outsourced to organizations and NGOs who have the necessary expertise. "NTCA should look after budget issues and guide the states on tiger conservation. In such cases, figures given by NGOs like WPSI are more reliable," he said.
Joseph said WPSI's numbers were based on thorough on-field investigation. Besides, the organization always verifies seizures and body parts with experts and field officers before making any claim.
A senior NTCA official, however, claimed several cases of tiger deaths this year were still under investigation. "Unless the probe is over we can't be sure," he said. Ironically, NTCA had in 2012 issued a directive saying all tiger deaths in the country would be treated as poaching unless proven otherwise. While NTCA figures show only one tiger death from Bengal's Sunderbans this year, the central body is still probing if it was a case of poaching or natural death.