Madhya Pradesh lost 26 tigers in ten months this year, official data showed on Wednesday, highlighting the conservation challenges faced by a state once known as the home of the big cat in India.
The MP deaths accounted for nearly a third of the 78 tigers killed across the country this year, the highest annual casualty India in fifteen years, data from the National Tiger Conservation Authority of India (NTCA) showed.
The big cat deaths in MP, once known as the country’s tiger state, were recorded in three protected zones — Kanha, Pench and Bandhavgarh.
India accounts for 70% of the world’s tiger population with an estimated 2,226 in the wild but the rise in number of deaths this year has brought the spotlight back on poaching, especially in densely populated reserves of MP.
Categorised as endangered by the global body, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), tigers are poached for their body parts, considered an aphrodisiac in some countries and used for occult rituals in many places of India for ensuring “prosperity”. Tiger skins are also used as decorative pieces by collectors across the world.
In at least three cases killing of tigers for tantric rituals has been confirmed
In at least three cases from Pench and Kanha, killing of tigers for tantric rituals has been confirmed.
Wildlife officials also attributed the deaths to young male tigers moving out of unprotected buffer areas, infighting and accident.
“A common thread in the three reserves, Pench, Kanha and Bandhavgarh, is that because of high density the tigers are forced to move out around human habitats, making them vulnerable to killing,” a state forest department official said.
Officials said 10 tigers each died in and around Kanha and Pench, while bodies of five were found around Bandhavgarh tiger reserve.
Sanjay Shukla, field director of Kanha, where tiger population has increased from 60 to 83 in the last two years, said many of the tiger killings this year has happened because of a tribal belief that offering the paws and claws of a big cat in a tantric ceremony will being prosperity.
According to Pench field director Shubranjan Sen, the broader pattern is that tiger numbers have soared and young male tigers are moving out to establish new territories.
Tigers come into conflict with villagers when they move out to the unsafe buffer
“When they move out to the unsafe buffer, they come into conflict with the villagers. This makes them vulnerable in the less-protected areas where they either become victims of poisoning, electrocution or poaching,” he told HT.
MP lost its ‘tiger state’ tag to Karnataka in 2010 after census found a bigger big cat population in the southern state.