Will Madhya Pradesh retain its ‘Tiger State’ tag this year?

Will Madhya Pradesh retain its ‘Tiger State’ tag this year?

This year, 40 tigers died in MP the highest in India

Madhya Pradesh (MP) was awarded the ‘Tiger State’ in 2018 for being home to the biggest population of the big cat (526). Within three years, the country’s largest state topped another list in the tiger census but for a grim outcome: The highest number of tigers (40) died in MP in 2021, according to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) data till December 14. 

The question that jumps out is if the central Indian state will be able to retain its status in the India Tiger Estimation 2022 based on a three-month-long national tiger population survey. 

The survey that began in October takes place every four years. In the last report released 2018, MP regained the top spot after losing it to Karnataka in 2014.

Karnataka had 408 tigers in 2014; Uttarakhand ranked second with 340 tigers and MP third with 308 tigers. 

This year, the country recorded 120 tiger deaths and MP’s share in this fatality figure was over 30 per cent. The number of tigers that died in MP this year was also over 40 per cent of the cumulative deaths since 2019: There were 26 tiger deaths in 2020 and 28 in 2019, according to NTCA.  

Maharashtra’s tiger toll in 2021 stands at 21, the second highest in the country. 

The Madhya Pradesh High Court issued a notice to the forest department of the MP government, the Union government and NTCA November 2021 seeking an explanation for the large number of tiger deaths in the state. The toll was 36 till then and four more, including tigress T30 who was shifted to Sanjay National Park from Bandhavgarh National Park in the state, died later that month. 

The petitioner, wildlife activist Ajay Dubey, said: 

I had filed a petition in the High Court of MP, making Union government, NTCA and forest department of Madhya Pradesh government parties, after which the notices seeking explanations were issued. They have been given four weeks to reply. I felt that judicial intervention was needed as 40 is a very high number for tiger mortality in one state.

Madhya Pradesh also recorded the highest tiger fatalities (202) from 2012-2020, NTCA data showed. 

Among conservation parks, Kanha National Park in the state recorded the highest number of deaths (43) in the eight-year period. It was followed by Nagarhole National Park of Karnataka (41 deaths), Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve (38, tied with Bandipur National Park of Karnataka).

Around 80 per cent of the 40 tiger deaths in the state were due to natural causes, according to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF), Madhya Pradesh, Alok Kumar. He added: 

Only nine of the 40 deaths are suspected poaching cases. The rest were natural deaths due to old age and territorial fights among tigers. Tigers happen to get caught in electric fences around farms, or die of old age. The lifespan of tigers is just 10-12 years. 

To date, Madhya Pradesh has not formed a Special Tiger Reserve Force (STRF) for the protection of the big cats, Dubey pointed out.

“There is hardly any conviction for poaching cases in Madhya Pradesh and the poachers have become so audacious that they are not even sparing individuals with radio collars on them,” he added. 

Some accountability has to be affixed to ensure that the conservation policy of the state is followed, according to the activist.

Madhya Pradesh, however, has a State Tiger Strike Force, smart patrolling and dog-squad for protection of tigers in the national parks, the PCCF said.

There is no hindrance in tiger conservation in MP, as we have the desired force for it, Kumar added. “Around 40 per cent of the state’s tigers are outside of the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries and so, presence or absence of STRF will not make a difference as they are in the wild.”

The number of tiger deaths has gone up in the entire country in the last three years, according to national records. The figure was 96 in 2019 and 106 in 2020. 

Of the 106 deaths last year, 19 tigers died of natural causes, 73 died under scrutiny, while poaching and seizures were the causes behind 14 deaths. 

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