2009 sees alarming rise in tiger deaths in India

February 17th, 2009 - 9:07 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 17 (IANS) Six tigers have been killed by poachers since the beginning of 2009 and more have been killed by enraged villagers, estimates an NGO. The Indian government had itself raised an alarm about the dwindling number of tigers in the wild last year, saying there were only around 1,400 left.

Delhi-based Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) says that apart from the six tigers killed by poachers this year in different parts of the country, a few more have died in conflicts but the number of incidents is yet to be verified.

Between 2005 and 2008, at least 20 tigers have been poisoned to death and 10 died in accidents, the NGO said.

Tigers straying out of deep jungles into fringe areas of the forests are in danger from poachers; they also get killed in road accidents and in conflicts with people.

Environmentalists say that confrontation with people has emerged as the most immediate threat to these cats after poaching, as shrinking habitats force them to venture out of the forest for food.

In a small hamlet in the Sarpduli forest range just outside Uttarakhand’s Corbett National Park, a tiger mauled to death a woman who went inside the forest to collect fuelwood Feb 4.

Angry residents in Garjia village, where the victim lived, blocked roads demanding that the tiger be captured dead or alive, and were reassured only when authorities captured it two days after the incident.

In neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, at least three people were mauled to death by a tiger, which had travelled some 160 km crossing several villages and towns from its home in the forests of Pilibit district to Faizabad district.

Residents in the Kumarganj area of Faizabad had been living in a state of fear for two months. On Feb 7, the tiger was shot near the Kamakhya Devi temple in the area where it had attacked one of the villagers, but it escaped into a nearby forest, and till date it is not clear if the animal is alive or has died from its wounds.

The wildlife warden in Corbett says he is helpless when residents get together to kill stray tigers or demand that the authorities capture it dead or alive.

“What can we do when people protest over killing of a villager by a tiger? If we know in advance when a tiger moves into a fringe area, we try to push it back into the reserve. But the tiger comes back and the problem persists,” says D.S. Rawat, wildlife warden in the Corbett National Park.

“This time we have been lucky (referring to the Garjia incident). Although we faced strong opposition from people who demanded that the tiger be killed, we managed to relocate the cat to the Nainital zoo. The tiger will be kept there under close observation before visitors can see it,” Rawat told IANS.

He said that another tiger was relocated from Teda village, a few kilometres from Garjia in the Sarpduli forest range Jan 10.

“Poachers take away every part of the tiger’s body and do not leave any evidence at the site: so poaching cases do not get noticed,” says S.N. Buragohain, director of the Kaziranga National Park in Assam, some 200 km from the state’s main city Guwahati.

“Such incidents come to light only when tiger parts are seized from poachers and they confess to the crime,” says Buragohain.

Since 2002, at least 42 tigers have died in Kaziranga, a reserve of about 730 sq km. The reasons for death include old age, accident, infighting and poaching, among others. The cause of death of 13 tigers could not be established, Buragohain added.

A veterinary expert requesting anonymity said he had examined at least four carcasses which might be the result of revenge killing, but the cause of death could not be ascertained due to the advanced state of decay.

The government has set up 37 tiger reserves, spread across 19 states in India. But the current level of protection is proving inadequate for the animals. Last year, the central government’s National Tiger Conservation Authority estimated that only about 1,400 tigers roam the wilds in India nowdays, down from an estimated 15,000 just two decades ago.

(Sanjeeb Baruah can be contacted at sanjeeb.b@ians.in)

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