By Julie Mariappan
CHENNAI: With tiger deaths on the rise in Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), a statutory body under the Union ministry of environment and forests, has directed them to investigate every case thoroughly and determine cause of death.
After MP, Tamil Nadu tops with 12 out of 58 deaths reported, all in the Western Ghats in Mudumalai, Sathyamangalam and Anamalai reserves this year. MP reported 14 deaths, while Uttarakhand stands third with seven cases. While the directive was issued a week ago, TN forest officials are yet to collate details. The NTCA website says "cases are under investigation" or "details awaited".
"Each death is considered poaching, until it is proven otherwise beyond doubt. We have told the states to follow standard operating procedure required at the field level for dealing with incidents of tiger mortality," NTCA DIG S P Yadav told TOI. The standard operating procedure issued by the agency has detailed instructions to be followed in case of tiger deaths, including prosecution in a court of law and regular monitoring of pending cases. Yadav said number of deaths was certainly high in TN, but not 'alarming'.
While wildlife enthusiasts point to lapses in surveillance, officials attribute the deaths to natural causes, infighting and poaching. The surge in number of deaths comes at a time when the tiger population is on the rise with the number of big cats in TN alone touching 163 in the last census in 2010. Under the Centrally-sponsored Project Tiger scheme, the state received Rs 17.2 crore in the last fiscal for habitat conservation, wildlife protection and controlling the man-animal conflict.
"Poaching certainly takes place in Tamil Nadu, since body parts of tigers are highly priced for medicines in China. They find their way to China via Nepal and Tibet," said former honorary wildlife warden S Theodore Baskaran. Though measures are taken to curb poaching, he said it had to be strengthened further with effective cooperation between police and foresters.
Pointing out that it was a positive sign that the deaths were being reported and not covered up, conservationist Shekar Dattatri stressed the need for more efforts to protect endangered wildlife. "We must also take heart from the fact that as long as our forests are protected, more cubs would be born to replace the tigers that died. The goal of conservation is not the preservation of every individual animal of a species but the safeguarding of a species as a whole," Dattatri said. It is also natural that states with fairly good tiger populations would have more deaths, he said.