More tigers have been poached in the first four months of 2016 than in entire 2015, hinting at a spurt in demand for their body parts and a revival in poachers’ network.
Poaching has been reported in some of the country’s most protected forest areas from Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand to Pench in Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra to Kazirangana in Assam to Satyamangalam tiger reserve in Tamil Nadu.
India is home to around 70% of the world’s tiger population in the wild, which is estimated to be 3,200.
Latest data by Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) shows that 28 tigers have been poached till April 26 as compared to 25 killed for body parts in 2015, highest for the first four months in the last decade.
“The situation is grave,” former director of Project Tiger, PK Sen, said.
Sen said that huge investments have been made to fight poaching but the killing of tigers has continued unabated. “The reason is that many of the issues grappling tiger reserves have not been resolved and access to tigers is as easy as before.”
New data comes at the time when tiger range countries patted their backs for increasing tiger population from 2,700 to around 3,200 earlier this month at a conference inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The ministers from these countries also claimed that it happened primarily because of control on poaching through improved vigilance and wildlife crime control.
“That is not fully true,” a statement issued by leading tiger experts in the country, including Padma awardee Ulhas Karanth, said.
They said poaching incidents are now being reported from southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka that was unheard off till a few years ago. It indicates that poachers are now scanning the entire tiger population in the country.
Five tigers were poached in Corbett National Park despite an alert issued by Tito Joseph of WPSI late last year. The killings came to light only when the tiger skin and their body were seized from poachers who were trying to cross over to Nepal from Uttarakhand in February 2016.
An official of Uttarakhand forest department admitted they were not aware of poaching in Corbett till the seizures were made, saying it was not possible to track every tiger in one of the India’s oldest tiger reserves in the rough Himalayan terrain.
The central Indian tiger reserve of Pench in Madhya Pradesh has also been in news for the wrong reasons this year. It has seen nine tiger deaths, including three poaching incidents that have left the authorities speechless.
Increasing tiger density (number of tigers in 100sq km) has been given the primary reason for the big cat falling prey to poachers as around 40% of 2,206 tigers in India are outside the most protected core area of tiger reserves.
Their home - the buffer zone - has almost zero patrolling by forest guards as it has over 600 villages and a high number of roads, making it easy for poachers to track tigers and hunt them.
A National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) official said protecting tigers is the job of states and they have provided sufficient funds to creating safety and conservation mechanism.
“If that would not have been the case, how would have tiger population increased by around 30% in four years (between 2010 and 2014)?” the official, who did not wish to be named as he is not authorised to speak to media, asked.
Other than poaching, 2016 has seen deaths of another 30 tigers because of varied reasons, including killing by villagers, infighting and natural death. The number of such deaths in 2015 was 70, with natural reasons being the primary cause of most casualties.