India lost 120 tigers last year — the highest in the decade. In the new year, the WWF has categorised tiger as the most endangered species.
Official figures for 2006 put India’s tiger population at 1,411. The numbers are now thought to have fallen to close to 1,000, a much diminished count from 10,000 in 1960s.
“Tigers are in stress in many areas in India,” Environment and Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh said after getting funds from the World Bank for tiger conservation.
New figures, expected early next year, could be shocking, said a ministry official, who didn't wish to be identified.
In 2009, most tigers were “poached or died under mysterious circumstances”.
The world has lost 95 per cent of the nine main tiger sub-species in the last century. The Bali, Caspian and Java tigers are now extinct. There is no reliable data on the South China tiger. Except for Bengal and Indochinese tigers, the population of Amur, Sumatran and Malayan cats has been reduced to a few hundred per species.
India and Nepal are home to the Bengal tiger.
"Tigers have been killed for hunting and poaching for their body parts," said Diane Walkington, head of species programme for the WWF in the UK.
China is the biggest market for tiger parts. Indian kills, too, were being sold in the neighbouring country, NGOs Wildlife Protection Society of India and Environment (WPSI) Investigation Agency had said in October.
India has set aside Rs 600 crore in the 11th Plan for saving the tiger. Their shrinking habitat, warn environmentalists, is not good for the animal's survival.
Rising sea could kill all the tigers in Sunderbans in West Bengal, the WWF has warned.
World's top environmentalists are meeting in Bangkok on January 29 to discuss steps to protect the tiger.