Indian government figures under-report on tiger deaths

Indian tiger (Photo courtesy: The Hindu)
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By Kushagra Dixit

New Delhi–There seems to be a significant difference in the figures given by the government and those recorded by some organisations on the number of tiger deaths due to poaching or natural causes in India.

According to the recent data from the Union Environment Ministry, 15 tigers were confirmed dead this year till July 25, either due to poaching or based on seizures (of the pelts or body organs).

However, the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), a Delhi-based nongovernmental organisation, says the number of dead tigers due to poaching or seizures during this period was 22. WPSI was set up by well-known wildlife conservationist Belinda Wright.

Indian tiger (Photo courtesy: The Hindu)

Of the total 74 tiger deaths reported by the government till July 25, 54 have been placed under scrutiny, while five are said to have died from natural causes. Additionally, 59 cases of tiger mortality between 2014 and 2016 are still under investigation.

Similarly, while the Ministry said 33 tigers deaths in 2016 were due to poaching — either through direct evidence or on the basis of seizures — wildlife organisations put this number at 50.

According to the experts, the discrepancies in the government figures are due to the slow processing or presenting of DNA samples or delay in forensic reports on the cause of death.

“This is a natural problem. The way our system works is too slow and the figures are only reported in a legal framework. The solution is to reform the system so that it can give quick forensic and DNA reports,” said a senior forest official who requested anonymity.

According to the official, despite the National Tiger Conservation Authority’s (NTCA) guidelines, tiger deaths due to electrocution — a rising trend linked to poaching — are often recorded as accidents.

Wildlife organisations say poaching figures recorded by the government often are on the lower side as many such cases go undetected. According to WPSI, which keeps a real-time record of the tiger mortality, authorities often extrapolate the numbers on the basis of known poaching offences to estimate the magnitude of the problem in India.

“WPSI also has records of a large number of tigers that were ‘found dead’. Without verification of poaching evidence these deaths have not been included in the (confirmed) figures,” Tito Joseph, Programme Officer at WPSI, told IANS. WPSI said that 19 tigers were placed under the “found dead” section this year.

“The government has to wait for the official reports from the states and this takes time,” Joseph added.

“Analysis of tiger mortality in the country during the last three years due to poaching, excluding seizures, shows that the average number of tiger deaths due to confirmed poaching is nine and the confirmed poaching cases in 2016 is 12,” the Union Environment Ministry said in response to a question in Parliament.

Speaking of measures taken to curb tiger poaching, the Ministry said that the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) coordinates its activities with Interpol for checking trans-border trade of wildlife products.

Interestingly, an RTI answer in November 2016 revealed that the WCCB had no information of poachers arrested or shot, the weapons used by them, or the numbers or kind of animals poached. (IANS)


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