This is the highest number of tiger deaths in three years.
The high number of tiger deaths -- 30 -- in the first two months of this year has been a cause of concern for the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the agency responsible for maintaining the details of each tiger mortality in India.
What has happened with the tigers?
In the first 50 days of this year, 30 tigers have fallen dead.
This is the highest number of tiger deaths in three years and it has prompted the Ministry of environment, forest and climate change to expedite its investigation into the cause of the deaths. Every tiger death is, in any case, investigated.
According to the NTCA guidelines, the field director is responsible for the investigation if the big cat has died in a tiger reserve.
For a protected area (national park/wildlife sanctuary), the manager concerned is in charge of the investigation.
In other areas (revenue land/conservation reserve/community reserve/village/township), the wildlife warden, according to the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, or the divisional forest officer/deputy conservator of forests, under whose jurisdiction the area falls, is the authority responsible for the probe.
The overall responsibility at the state level rests with the chief wildlife warden of the state concerned.
According to NTCA data from 2012 to July, 2022, around 53 per cent of all deaths have occurred inside the tiger reserves; 35 per cent of tiger mortalities were recorded outside the boundary of tiger reserves; and the remaining 12 per cent were due to seizures.
A tiger death is entered in the database only after the state government verifies the death.
NTCA procedures are stringent when it comes to tiger deaths.
All tiger deaths are considered as an incident of 'poaching' unless the investigation proves otherwise.
Supplementary details like post mortem reports, forensic and lab reports and circumstantial evidence are gathered for closing a particular tiger death case and classifying it as either 'natural', 'poaching' or 'unnatural but not poaching'.
The onus of proving a death as natural or a result of poaching -- with adequate evidence like necropsy report, pathology report, coloured photographs, forensic reports and other reports under the standard operating procedure -- is on the state.
In the absence of clear evidence, supporting reports are used to arrive at a conclusion.
The final analysis in such cases is done at the NTCA headquarters at Delhi.
However, if doubt persists even after the investigation is over, the cause of death is classified as poaching.
According to forest officials, the complete process to ascertain the cause of the death can take more than a year.
Asked about the reason for the delayed investigation, S P Yadav, additional director general, Project Tiger, said the forensic examination to determine the cause takes time.
"There are very few laboratories that conduct forensic examination of tiger deaths in the country," he said.
"Some of these laboratories also conduct forensic tests on human bodies, which get preference over tigers," Yadav added.
According to the NTCA data from 2012 to July, 2022, around 72 per cent of recorded tiger mortality cases have been closed after scrutinising the post mortem and forensic reports and over 28 per cent of the cases are pending (under scrutiny).
Major causes of deaths
According to forest officials, territorial disputes, age and health issues, poaching, and electrocution are the main reasons for the death of tigers.
The NTCA's mortality data from 2012 to 2022 reveals that of the 762 tiger deaths investigated during the period, around 55 per cent were natural deaths followed by poaching (25 per cent).
Seizure (14 per cent) was the third highest cause of death in tigers. The remaining were attributed as unnatural non-poaching deaths.
Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com