In a startling disclosure, the Union government has informed the Supreme Court that as many as 411 tigers vanished from the forests across India between 1999 and 2003, at least 352 of them killed by poachers.
"An independent agency was commissioned to compile and analyse the available country-level tiger poaching data over a period of five years. The data collected records 411 cases during the five years out of which 173 records relate to mortality and 238 records relate to seizures," an affidavit filed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests before the court said.
The affidavit was filed in response to environmentalist Ashok Kumar's application seeking extension of the Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the Sariska Tiger Reserve to other Project Tiger locations.
Also see: Cong claws at BJP on vanishing tigers
The affidavit said poachers were most active in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, accounting for 24 and 23 tiger deaths respectively in the last five years. Thirteen tigers were killed in Madhya Pradesh during the period.
Interestingly, despite the CBI reporting that not a single tiger was left in Sariska Tiger Reserve, the ministry said only two tigers were killed by poachers here in the five year period.
Only 59 tigers died a natural death in the five-year period and only the states of Madhya Pradesh (15), Uttar Pradesh (12) and Uttaranchal (10) reported double-digit mortality figures.
From the 238 seizures of tiger skins and 219 of body parts, Madhya Pradesh topped the list with 57 cases followed by Uttar Pradesh (44), West Bengal (39), Maharashtra (19), Uttaranchal (15) and Andhra Pradesh (11), the ministry said.
"The international border of India with Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar is relatively porous which facilitates illegal transfer of contraband, including wildlife items across these borders," the affidavit said.
The Steering Committee of Project Tiger in its meeting on April 12 this year listed the Tiger reserves in Uttaranchal (Corbett and Rajaji National Park), Uttar Pradesh (Dudhwa), Madhya Pradesh (Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Pench and
Panna), Maharashtra (Tadoba, Pench and Melghat), West Bengal (Sunderbans), Assam (Kaziranga), Tamil Nadu (Mudumalai), Karnataka (Bandipur and Nagarhole) and Rajasthan (Ranthambore) and said they deserve special attention for control of poaching of tigers.