Authorities in the eastern Indian state of Orissa have rejected the results of a fresh count of the tiger population.
It shows that Orissa has between 37 to 53 of the 1,411 tigers in India. But authorities say a 2005 local census found 192 animals in the state.
The count found a steep fall in India’s tiger population from 3,642 animals in a federal census in 2002.
Poaching and urbanisation are blamed for the decline in tiger number in the country.
Authorities in Orissa are disputing the results of the new consensus by the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
“We don’t agree with the figures. We are proud of our tigers,” state chief minister Naveen Patnaik said.
The census also found that the number of animals in Similipal Tiger Reserve, one of the largest tiger reserves in India, was around 20.
Authorities say a local census in 2005 had found 101 tigers in Similipal alone.
“Tigers are difficult to spot here because of the dense forests. That is why we dispute the figures for Similipal” said Bijay Ketan Patnaik, the state’s chief wildlife warden.
Federal authorities have denied the allegation that the census was faulty.
“Our figures for Orissa are robust and based on unexceptionable science and fieldwork in which the state forest authorities were also involved,” said Rajesh Gopal of the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
Orissa-based conservationist Biswajit Mohanty said that the state government should punish local officials who had been counting tigers.
“Instead of finding faulty with the figures, the government should take to task officials responsible for misleading people with the number of tigers in the state,” he said.
The latest census, released on Tuesday, said that there had been a decline in tiger population all over India.
The only exception was the southern state of Tamil Nadu where the animals’ numbers had gone up to 76 from 60 five years ago.
Wildlife experts say urgent efforts should be made to save the animals.
Experts blame the government for failing to crack down on poachers and the illegal trade in tiger skins.
Tigers are poached for their body parts – skins are prized for fashion and tiger bones are used for oriental medicines.
Tiger pelts can fetch up to $12,500 in China.
According to reports, there were 40,000 tigers in India a century ago.
The country is home to 40% of the world’s tigers, with 23 tiger reserves in 17 states.
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