Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh): Madhya Pradesh, which is known as the 'tiger state' of India, has also earned the dubious distinction of accounting for the highest number of deathS of these majestic striped felines.
Till July 15 this year, of the total number of 74 tiger deaths registered in the country, MP alone accounted for 27 of them - highest for any state during this period, the data published by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) on its website has revealed.
The centrally located state is followed on this front by Maharashtra, which registered 15 deaths during the period. Karnataka comes next with 11 fatalities, Assam five, Kerala and Rajasthan four each, Uttar Pradesh three, Andhra Pradesh two, Bihar, Odisha and Chhattisgarh one each, among other states, as per the NTCA figures.
According to officials, territorial fights, old age, ailments, poaching and electrocution are some of the prominent reasons for their deaths.
Madhya Pradesh had regained the coveted tag of being the 'tiger state' of the country in the 2018 census.
As per the All-India Tiger Estimation Report 2018, the state was home to 526 tigers, the highest for any state in the country.
There are six tiger reserves in the state, namely Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Pench, Satpura, Panna and Sanjay Dubri.
Of the 27 tiger deaths this year, nine were males and eight females. In other cases, the gender of the animals was not mentioned in the data. The deceased included adults, sub-adults and cubs.
Tigers live, breed and hunt in forests and they are at the top of the food chain. As apex predators, their presence indicates a healthy and broader ecosystem.
Expressing concern over the rising number of tiger deaths, wildlife enthusiast and Right to Information (RTI) activist Ajay Dube told PTI, "In Panna, no tigers were found about 10 years back. After that, the NTCA advised the states to set up their own Special Tiger Protection Forces (STPFs) for safeguarding the big cats, especially from poachers.
"The Centre has made budgetary provisions for supporting the STPFs, but the MP government has so far not constituted any such force due to its own vested interests, he alleged.
If established, this force will check, besides poaching, other activities like illegal mining and felling of trees in the forest areas, he said.
Dube also said that states like Karnataka, Odisha and Maharashtra have created STPFs and their results are visible as Karnataka, despite having a sizable population of tigers, has a lower mortality rate of big cats than Madhya Pradesh.
Principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) wildlife, J S Chauhan, said, "The higher number of tiger mortality is due to the fact that Madhya Pradesh has the highest population of big cats in the country. Due to this, the number of their deaths is naturally also high."
"Territorial fights among tigers can't be avoided as it is a natural process for them. Old age is another issue," he said.
The forest department can only try to prevent poaching and it always strives to do so, he said.
On the issue of formation of the STPF, he said Madhya Pradesh was the first state to give a nod for it, but it has not been formed yet somehow.
On the positive side, Chauhan pegged the number of tiger births in the state this year at around 120, although the exact count could not be confirmed.