Suspected poisoning killed a tigress and two of her cubs in Madhya Pradesh’s Pench tiger reserve this March, adding to a string of unnatural Royal Bengal deaths in the forest that inspired Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.
Forest officials said Pench recorded seven of the eight tiger deaths in the state since January for reasons other than natural but emblematic of man-animal conflicts in protected areas for wildlife — such as poaching, car crash, septicemia infection, electrocution, and drowning in a well.
The carcass of the 11-year-old feline, popular as the naallewale baghin or canal tigress, was found on Monday evening and her two death eight-month-old cubs were discovered the next day.
The reserve’s field director, Shubranjan Sen, said the tigress was nursing a litter of four cubs. “One of the cubs has been found and it is fine. Our field staff is looking for the fourth cub.”
Sen said it looked like a case of poisoning and “we are investigating the source”.
Forest officials were waiting for the autopsy report to confirm the cause of death.
“The carcass had no injury marks and no body parts were missing. Prima facie poaching can be ruled out,” said Kiran Bisen, the reserve’s deputy director.
She dismissed speculation that the tigress might have had a drink from a waterhole where 10 cattle died sometime ago because of poisoning. “That water source was in another part of the reserve,” the official said.
Madhya Pradesh has reported the highest tiger mortality so far this year, recording the first death in Pench on January 2 and capping a grim figure of 19 fatalities since 2015.
Barely a week later, the discovery of a three-year-old tigress’ carcass left wildlife officials and conservationists worried. It bore signs of poaching — hidden under a heap of stones after being electrocuted. Four people were arrested.
Madhya Pradesh, which was once an undisputed haven for Royal Bengals, lost the coveted status to Karnataka that recorded 300 tigers in the 2010 census. But census figures in January 2015 showed a steady rise in the state’s tiger numbers: from 257 in 2010 to 308.
Tiger population in India has been on an upswing since 2006 when it dipped to an alarming 1,411 from over 3,000 in early 2000. The sharp decline in numbers was attributed to rampant poaching and poor management of tiger reserves, where human encroachment is common and leads to frequent man-animal conflicts.