Alarmed by the large number of tigers dying in the country, the environment and forest ministry has decided to look for reasons behind the deaths.
The non-government organisation, Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), has said the country has lost 150 tigers, including 72 this year, since 2006, when it had 1,411 big cats.
However, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the body under the ministry that will investigate the reasons for the dwindling tiger population, puts the deaths at 100 since 2006, including 54 in 2009.
To re-examine India’s tiger conservation strategy, the NTCA constituted six independent expert groups last week. They will look at all aspects of tiger conservation by visiting the reserves and find out whether central government funds are being utilised.
The WPSI says the causes of the tiger deaths are shrinking habitats for the animals, poaching, and man-animal conflicts.
The fact that the country has been losing its tigers in a major way came to light in January 2005. On the basis of this, the government formed a task force on tigers. The tiger is the country’s national animal.
Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said in July this year that seven tiger reserves including Panna (372 km north-east of Bhopal) and Indravati (486 km south of Raipur) were on the verge of losing all their tigers.
“Tiger mortality this year is high,” NTCA member-secretary Rajesh Gopal told HT. “Specific instructions have been issued to field directors to protect the endangered species.”
The instructions have not helped much. WPSI executive director Belinda Wright said, “Some states are not serious about implementing measures to protect the animal and the habitat where it lives.”
“To get an independent view we have ensured that none of the members (of the expert groups) is associated with any government department, state or central,” said an NTCA official on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media.
Forests around tiger reserves have dwindled mostly because of human activity, making the job of poachers easier, says Ananda Banerjee, an environment conservationist. This concern is one of the critical terms of reference of the expert groups, which will submit their reports in six months.
“We will look at all aspects, including the concerns of local communities,” said KH Chaudhary, chairperson of the expert group for northeastern India.
In the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2007-12), the government made the highest-ever allocation for tiger conservation — Rs 660 crore for relocating about 10,000 families living in the reserves and Rs 200 crore for tiger protection.