Mystery deaths

The cause for 55 per cent of tiger deaths re­mains un­known

Down to Earth - - TIGER - RA­JESH­WARI GANE­SHAN |

IN AU­GUST this year, when the Na­tional Tiger Con­ser­va­tion Author­ity (ntca) re­leased tiger mor­tal­ity fig­ures for the first eight months of the year, the 42 tiger deaths made head­lines. But tiger ex­perts say the fig­ure is no cause for worry.“Go­ing by In­dia’s tiger pop­u­la­tion, 42 deaths this year is not some­thing one needs to panic about,”says con­ser­va­tion zo­ol­o­gist K Ul­las Karanth. How­ever, ex­perts say the real worry is that in a large num­ber of cases,the cause of death has not been as­cer­tained, and un­der­stand­ing the rea­son for tiger deaths is cru­cial in draw­ing out ef­fec­tive con­ser­va­tion plans.

Since 2010, 339 tiger deaths have been recorded in the coun­try. Ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment data, pre­cise rea­sons for the deaths have not been as­cer­tained for nearly two-thirds of th­ese cases (see ‘Off the mark!’ p15). Of the tiger mor­tal­i­ties reg­is­tered this year alone,rea­sons for deaths are not known for 55 per cent of the cases. Ex­perts say that the cur­rent predica­ment is due to the short­age of an­i­mal foren­sic lab­o­ra­to­ries.

In 2012, ntca had is­sued an ad­vi­sory ask­ing state for­est de­part­ments to treat ev­ery death of the big cat as a case of poach­ing, un­less proven oth­er­wise.The ad­vi­sory was is­sued to en­sure that of­fi­cials do not at­tribute each and ev­ery mor­tal­ity to “nat­u­ral causes”. Ac­cord­ing to a stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dure is­sued by the ntca, ev­ery tiger death has to be in­ves­ti­gated. The pro­ce­dure re­quires of­fi­cials to promptly re­cover the tiger car­cass,col­lect ev­i­dence and pho­to­graph the scene.The car­cass then has to be sent for post-mortem and vis­ceral sam­ples need to be sent to recog­nised lab­o­ra­to­ries for dna pro­fil­ing and histopatho­log­i­cal tests. Be­fore dis­pos­ing off the car­cass, the post-mortem re­port has to be

The Na­tional Tiger Con­ser­va­tion Author­ity in 2012 is­sued an ad­vi­sory ask­ing state for­est de­part­ments to treat ev­ery death of the big cat as a case of

poach­ing, un­less proven oth­er­wise

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