Tigers (Panthera tigris) are one of the most recognizable symbols of India and are watched very closely. Tiger conservation is the responsibility of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)
The recent announcement that 30 have died within a span of two months does not immediately concern officials.
The Indian Express delves into this troubling aspect of conservation: What is a normal death rate for an endangered population?
Let’s begin with some numbers. The best estimate is that 100,000 tigers roamed the Earth in 1900. Today, the estimate of the number of wild tigers hovers around 5,000. India recognized the dire straits tigers faced in 1973 and began Project Tiger. More recently, about a dozen nations with tigers have pledged to double the world tiger population. India and Nepal have been successful, but the future of tigers in China, South East Asia and the large islands is dubious.
Of course there are tigers and then there are tigers. The 5,000 in the wild represent the existing subspecies and are genetically pure examples of their type. Many other tigers are in zoos who also seek to keep pure bloodlines and maintain ancestry records. However, many thousands of tigers are in private hands world wide. There may be more tigers in the state of Texas than in India. Most of these tigers are cross bred. They are not counted in terms of genetic subspecies purity. Some of those tigers are in sanctuaries like Wild Animal Sanctuary, others are still kept as “exotic pets” or for other even less attractive practices.
Back to India. The NTCA keeps records of all wild tiger deaths. They say tiger deaths spike between January and March. During these months tigers disperse and seek new territory. They come into conflict with other tigers. Some are poached, but that number is apparently declining.
The Indian Express quoted a “senior official”
“The reason why tiger deaths are higher in these two states (Madyha Pradesh and Maharashtra) is because they have a healthy tiger population. There is nothing alarming about the number of deaths this year. With an increase in tiger population, there will naturally be an increase in the number of deaths. From NTCA’s data we know the highest number of tiger deaths takes place between January and March in any given year. This is the time that they leave their territories and venture out, so there is conflict between tigers. There are territorial conflicts among the tigers as well. With a healthy tiger population in the country, 200 Tiger deaths annually is not untoward,’’ said a senior NTCA official.”
He was referring to the breakdown of deaths in the 9 tiger reserves that have reported fatalities. Madhya Pradesh is in central India. Its capital is Bhopal. Maharashtra is in the west and its capital is Mumbai.
The NTCA estimates the tiger population is growing about 6 percent annually. Their experts believe two to 300 deaths per year (perhaps 10 pct of the population) is normal. The majority of tiger deaths are due to natural causes. Poaching is the second largest problem but has dropped sharply. There were 7 cases in 2020, down from 34 in 2018.
As in the United States, wildlife corridors are of increasing importance. Tigers get into trouble outside the reserves where they can conflict with local people. Indian officials acknowledge the need to develop and protect wildlife corridors.
Overall, India has claimed success for its ambitious conservation problems. But critics contend the programs are “tiger centric” and may actually hurt other endangered species. There is also criticism that the programs are mandates. A call for “people centric” conservation is being made.