According to a 2018 census, India was home to 2,967 tigers. NTCA has maintained a record of tiger deaths publicly since 2012. TOI had reported in October that the toll in 2021 could be the highest in a decade as it had already hit 99 by September 30. The number in 2016 was almost as high, at 121. The figure this year has raised alarm, with experts calling for rigorous conservation efforts, especially in places such as forest reserves.
Statewise, Madhya Pradesh, with 526 tigers, had the highest loss at 42, followed by Maharashtra, which has 312 tigers, at 26, and Karnataka, which hosts 524 tigers, at 15. Uttar Pradesh, home to roughly 173 tigers, recorded nine deaths. The numbers could be higher as NTCA uploads data after further verification.
However, experts believe that the death toll could be higher. A senior official working with the UP forest department told TOI, “These are the number of deaths that are actually reported. Many tigers die of natural causes inside the forest area and their deaths go unreported… the total number of tigers that India lost in 2021 could be higher.”
The official said that the need of the hour was to ensure better conservation plans to mitigate man-animal conflicts. He added that this could be done by ensuring a clear passage for the animal to migrate to other forests. “Tigers can cover hundreds of miles searching for their territory, provided they have clear corridors,” he said.
Many experts believe that the situation is alarming as wildlife habitats are shrinking. They said humans exert enormous pressure around reserved forest areas, which in turn has led to blocked forest corridors .
When the tiger population overspills, it is unable to move to another habitat. Experts say the animals have been trying to adapt to the situation in their own ways. In UP, over two dozen tigers live in sugarcane fields or social forestry areas. This has increased challenges for people as well as the forest department.
Field director of the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, Sanjay Pathak, said, “The tiger population (has) increased considerably, which is why the toll, too, is likely to increase as death is a natural phenomenon.”