With the number of tigers decreasing rapidly, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has asked forest departments to treat every death of the big cat as a case of poaching — unless proven otherwise. This has been done to ensure that officials do not attribute every tiger death to 'natural causes'.
"As the cause of tiger deaths can either be poaching or non-targeted killings due to sensitive human-tiger interface conflict, there is a need to ensure adequate caution while classifying tiger deaths as natural causes," said a letter written to project directors of tiger reserves in India by Rajesh Gopal, the director of NTCA.
In the last one week, three tiger deaths were reported from the Dudwa tiger reserve in Uttar Pradesh. While the forest department believes the deaths were natural, owing to signs of struggle on the body of one of the tigers, wildlife experts believe that the animals were the victims of a poaching attempt.
In other incidents, at least two tiger deaths were reported from Maharashtra — taking the state's 2012 death tally to 12. Recently, the state allowed forest officials to shoot poachers at sight.
The NTCA has asked tiger reserves to carry out a detailed probe before declaring the reason for the deaths. Officials are required to scan nearby areas to rule out the presence of metal traps, snares and evidence pertaining to unauthorised vehicular movement. The NTCA also wants officials to check for toxic elements in watering holes or livestock kills made by tigers.