9 tiger deaths in Kaziranga in 3 months
6 Feb 2009, 0450 hrs IST, Naresh Mitra, TNN
GUWAHATI: If the disappearance of tigers from Sariska National Park was shocking, this news is absolutely chilling. Authorities at Kaziranga
National Park have admitted to the deaths of nine big cats in the past three months, the biggest casualty ever in a national park over such a brief period.
Wildlife experts fear the numbers are much higher and suspect forest officers at Kaziranga are deliberately quoting a lower figure to avert a full-blown investigation.
Speaking to TOI, Kaziranga National Park director S N Buragohain claimed the reason behind the deaths ranged from poisoning by villagers to infighting among tigers and old age. Experts, however, rubbished the argument and said several deaths had occurred due to poaching at the park.
“Rhino poachers are behind the killings. I have credible information that the poachers have confessed to killing at least four tigers in the recent past. The real figure must be higher,” said P K Sen, former director of Project Tiger.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority had sounded an alert a few days ago but the authorities at Kaziranga turned a deaf ear. “The Park authorities should immediately pull up socks and report the deaths to the Centre,” Sen said.
A decomposed tiger carcass was found at Agoratoli range on December 21 and bones of a male tiger were recovered on January 10. On January 21, the body of a tigress was detected at the Park.
The Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) 2008 country-wide status of tigers pegged the figure in Assam at 70. Though forest officers here had refuted the study and claimed there were 86 tigers at Kaziranga alone, the claims have now come under a cloud. There has been no official census at Kaziranga since 2000 when the 86 headcount was reported. But forest authorities continue to quote the figure to buttress their claim that the 863 sq km reserve has a healthy cat density.
Buragohain, however, insisted that poaching was not the sole reason behind the deaths. “Since tigers are highly territorial animals, there are frequent incidents of infighting. With their habitat shrinking, the big cats often stray into neighbouring villages in search of food. Regular cases of cattle-lifting makes the endangered animal vulnerable to retaliatory killings by humans,” he said.