Maharashtra is again under the spotlight for yet another tiger death. This time, it is a ten-year-old tigress named T-35 who was found dead in the Melghat Wildlife Division about six days back. It is believed that the cause of death could be attributed either to old age or to sustained injuries during a fight with a wild boar. However, forest officials are still silent on the matter and believe that any conclusion can be reached only after the histopathology reports are out. An average tiger usually has a lifespan of 16 to 18 years, and naturally, the premature death of a tigress has left forest officials nervous.
The body of the dead tiger was found by a forest guard on patrol in the Akot range, situated in the buffer zone of the Melghat Tiger Project. The body was then subsequently sent for post mortem, which was then conducted by two veterinary doctors. They reached the conclusion that the death had occurred six days back, as was evident from the decaying state of the body it was found in. A forest official said, “The wild boar connection is being drawn as a half-eaten boar was also found around 100 metres from the body. The meat samples of the boar will now be collected and sent for toxicological tests to ascertain if the carcass was poisoned to kill the tigress.”
Forest officials also added that even though the body was found in a decayed state, it was intact and showed no signs of poaching. Officials, however, agree that the death of the tigress was caused either by old age or from injuries sustained from a fight with a wild boar whose body was found at a distance of almost 100m.
While 105 tiger deaths were recorded between 2002 to 2006, the years from 1998 to 2002 saw 146 tiger deaths. While these statistics are certainly cause for alarm, they also reflect a deeper problem in the approach to tiger conservation. It is believed that the world has lost around 97% of the tiger population in the last 100 years. Out of the 3890 tigers left in the world, India is home to around 2266 tigers.
An example of the flawed approach to handling the man tiger conflict was exposed in the case of Tigress Avni, where Shafat Ali Khan, a private hunter, shot the tiger, thus causing massive outrage among animal lovers and wildlife activists. Clearly, that was a case which could have been handled better, but which led to the tigress becoming the victim of a trigger happy hunter. Such incidents should lead us to rethink on the entire approach to tiger conservation and the kind of public discourse that surrounds it.
An RTI filed by a Noida based advocate, Ranjan Tomar, revealed that India lost 384 tigers between the years 2008 to 2018. Those are certainly some alarming numbers. Official data released by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NCTA), responsible for the welfare and protection of tigers, state that at least 100 tiger deaths were recorded in the year 2018. Out of these, 93 deaths could be attributed to mortality and the rest on seizures (related to poaching, whereby the wildlife authorities presume the death of a tiger on the basis of its body parts seized by them). There are several reasons for tiger deaths, including natural death, poaching, poisoning and electrocution.
It is interesting to note that Madhya Pradesh, a state otherwise successful in tiger preservation, recorded the highest number of tiger deaths at 27. It was followed by Maharashtra with 20 deaths and Karnataka with 14 deaths. All three states combined accounted for around 61 of tiger deaths in 2018. The same data also revealed that half the tiger deaths occurred outside tiger reserves, thus bringing man-animal conflict into the question.
Maharashtra has always been in the news for being the state with the second highest tiger deaths in India. In 2018 alone, sixteen tigers, including five cubs, died, according to data compiled by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NCTA). A particularly disturbing incident was the death of three tiger cubs after being run over by a speeding train in the Chandrapur Junona Range. While some of these deaths can be attributed to man-animal conflict, death by poisoning has also been suspected on several occasions.
Although India’s efforts in tiger conservation have been commended throughout the world by wildlife experts, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of tiger deaths across the country. The death of a 10-year-old tigress in Maharashtra is an example. At such a time, is extremely important to raise public awareness on the issue. Another Global Tiger Day, also known as International Tiger Day, is celebrated every year on 29th July to raise awareness on tiger conservation. The decision to celebrate this day as tiger day was taken in 2010 at St. Petersburg Tiger Summit. The aim of the program is to create a global system which protects the natural habitats of tigers while raising public awareness on various aspects of tiger conservation.
This event holds special importance for India because the tiger is also the national animal of India. On this occasion, rallies are held, drawing competitions and street plays are organised and documentary screenings are made available to the general public. WWF (World Wildlife Fund) teams, in partnership with the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), aim to involve the general public in the protection of tigers in India. A day dedicated to raising awareness about tiger conservation, along with the involvement of the general public, seems more important now than ever before. This latest incident involving the death of a 10-year-old tigress in Maharashtra, and an overall increase in tiger deaths across the country, should demand our attention to the utmost. The Global Tiger Day is a step in that direction.
As an individual, you can certainly do your bit in contributing to tiger conservation. You can raise awareness through public debates and social media on the importance of tiger conservation and their enormous importance.