Poaching menace or mating mayhem?

A spate of tiger deaths at Uttaranchal's wildlife reserves has sent wildlife experts scouting around for answers.

india Updated: Mar 23, 2006 11:29 IST

A spate of tiger deaths at the Corbett National Park and the adjoining Rajaji National Park in Uttaranchal has raised concerns among wildlife experts.

As many as four tigers were found dead over the past two months at Corbett, India's oldest wildlife reserve and home to about 140 tigers. Another tiger was reportedly mauled by an elephant at the Rajaji park about six weeks ago.

Four of the five dead tigers were females.

After almost two months since the first death was reported, wildlife officials sprung into action on Tuesday. A team of experts rushed from the Indian wildlife institute at Dehradun to the Corbett Park.

The carcass of the last tiger, which reportedly died on Friday, was discovered on Monday in the Ramnagar forest range in the outer periphery of Corbett. Officials attributed the deaths to infighting or physically incompatible mating.

"Three of the four female victims were apparently killed fighting its rivals while one died as a result of mating with a much heavier and bigger male," Uttaranchal chief wildlife conservator SK Chandola said over telephone from Dehradun.

"The injury suffered by the female on account of the incompatible mating became apparent as the uterus of the victim had come out and was badly ruptured.

"There was ample evidence to suggest that the remaining four tigers met their end in fights with rivals over territory, which is not unusual in forests."

But wildlife experts attribute the deaths to poisoning by poachers.

"I see no logic in the official explanation. Infighting between female tigers is extremely rare," said Kaushlendra Singh, convenor of Billy's Arc, a wildlife NGO headed by renowned conservationist Billy Arjan Singh.

Experts also dismissed the incompatible mating death theory.

"It sounds unbelievable that a young tigress would die on account of mating a relatively bigger male," said Suresh Singh, retired additional director of Indian Veterinary Institute.

"These are explanations usually given out only to cover up facts. The post mortem of tigers killed in forests is generally carried out by vets who have no experience of wild animals. More often than not they just sign on the dotted line drawn by wildlife officials who tend to conceal facts," he said.

Corbett Park director Rajiv Bhartari, however, refused to make any comment.

"Now that an expert team led by my predecessor DS Khati has arrived in Dehradun to investigate the cause of these deaths, it would be inappropriate for me to make any comment at this juncture," he said.

First Published: Mar 23, 2006 11:21 IST