At least 76 tiger deaths have been reported in India between January and October this year, the highest national mortality figure since 2010.
Madhya Pradesh tops the list with nearly a third of all mortalities, followed by Karnataka, which boasts the highest tiger population among the states, with 13 deaths.
Earlier in 2015, 69 tiger deaths were reported. 'Tigernet', a collaborative effort of the National Tiger Conservation Authority and TRAFFIC-India, a wildlife trade monitoring network, released the data, reports The Times Of India.
Conservationists have raised the alarm on poaching following a rise in cases of seizure of tiger body parts across the country.
So far, 20 seizures were registered in India till November this year, which is also the highest since 2010. One such seizure was made last month in Gondia district in Maharashtra.
Among the 76 deaths, 41 are still being investigated. The remaining deaths have been attributed to direct or indirect human intervention, which includes poaching, poisoning, electrocution, road accidents and elimination by authorities, besides cases of tigers attacking each other and natural causes.
‘Tiger deaths in isolated pockets, not everywhere’
"We usually witness a high incidence of poaching from August to November every year, though the reasons for this trend are unknown," said Shekhar Kumar Niraj, head of TRAFFIC-India.
"The situation this year seems far more grim as there has been an almost 10% increase in tiger mortalities and an over 150% increase in seizures since last year," Niraj also said.
"The Tadoba and Melghat regions of Maharashtra have always been more prone to tiger poaching. Maharashtra shares its border with Madhya Pradesh, where tiger mortalities and cases of poaching are the highest. The Nagpur region is known for cases of illegal trade of wildlife body parts," he said.
According to experts, the rise in number of seizures could also mean that the government’s intelligence gathering is becoming more sophisticated, which has helped in trapping more poachers, reports The Times Of India.
However, tiger habitats in India were under tremendous pressure, according to Debi Goenka, founder of NGO Conservation Action Trust.
"There have been some success stories where tigers are breeding well which has helped increase their count, but this has happened in isolated pockets and not in all sanctuaries. In the case of saturated reserves, cubs move out to look for their own territory and become vulnerable to poaching and road accidents," Goenka said.
He also opined that the forest department's practice of upgrading posts has led to a decline in the number of forest guards to ensure tiger protection in the reserves.
"Upgrading certain posts means that the job once handled by somebody much younger now has to be done by an older official of a higher rank. Such officials cannot really exert much energy,” he said.
Also, department headquarters are closer to cities, which means fewer officials are left for protection work in reserves which are far away from the cities when other officials have to attend meetings at the headquarters, Goenka added.