COIMBATORE: One in every four tiger deaths reported across the country this year has been from Tamil Nadu. The state has recorded 11 tiger deaths till date, including the one on October 5 at Masinagudi in Mudumalai. This is the second highest number reported in the country this year.
Madhya Pradesh has recorded 13 of the 47 tiger deaths in the country in 2014, according to National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). The number of tiger deaths across the country has been coming down over the past three years while there has been a sharp rise in Tamil Nadu. Last year only two deaths were from the state of the total 63 recorded nationally, and the year before Tamil Nadu had reported just one tiger death.
"The number of tiger deaths is high for Tamil Nadu this year, but breeding is also taking place fast. We should wait for the tiger census to ascertain whether the number of deaths is disproportionate to the tiger population," said a senior officer from NTCA.
Tamil Nadu also accounts for 50% of tiger deaths in the southern zone of NTCA, comprising Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka. There are an estimated 163 tigers in the four tiger reserves of Tamil Nadu—Anamalai Tiger Reserve, Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, Kalakkad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve and Sathyamangalam sanctuary of the 400-odd found in the four southern states.
In two cases, the cause of death has not been ascertained by forest authorities so far. A man-eater was shot dead in Udhagamandalam in January, while another died due to fighting. Most of the cases are still 'under investigation'. "Even if it is a natural death, we will be cautious before declaring it. Only after conducting all tests and a thorough inquiry, would we declare the cause of death, even it takes a year," said a forest officer.
State forest authorities said that one of the deaths was suspected to be due to poaching and the other one poisoning. "But the inquiry is not over. At the national level too investigation into almost all incidents of tiger deaths has not been completed," a source said.
A forest officer said that though not all deaths are due to poaching, they treat every mortality as a case of poaching until conclusively proven otherwise. NTCA authorities note that in the past not all tiger deaths were reported. But now each and every death is recorded due to increased vigilance by forest officials and awareness among tribals.
Experts and environmentalists say there could be several factors for tiger deaths. Ageing, territorial fighting and natural causes could be causes for mortality. "But the anti-poaching law should be implemented and poachers should be convicted," said noted environmentalist and author Theodore Baskaran.
Forest authorities say the tiger population is going up in the state. For instance, in Sathyamangalam forest division, declared as a tiger reserve, the population of the big cats has increased from 28 to 60 in the last seven years.
Each tiger requires a territorial range of 20sqkm, said experts, adding that there is a need to increase forest cover to accommodate the rising number of tigers. "We definitely need more habitat for the tigers," said an NTCA officer.
A state forest officer said increasing vegetation in existing forests was crucial. "Only then population of prey would improve which is essential to sustain the rising number of predators," he said.