Once a home to tigers, Madhya Pradesh now appears to have turned into an enemy territory for them, as the state witnessed the highest number of feline deaths in 2016, when it lost 33 big cats, taking the toll to 89 in a period of last five years.
From year 2011 to 2016, as many as 89 tigers including 11 cubs died in the state due to various reasons including poaching, territorial clashes or for natural reasons as cited in the data obtained from the MP Forest Department.
The data revealed that 2012 witnessed the death of 16 felines which reduced to 11 next year (2013). Subsequent years proved more fatal for the wildcat when the state saw 14 and 15 deaths respectively in 2014 and 2015.
And, then came 2016, the worst of all when the figures (of feline deaths) were almost double the average of previous five years.
On an average, 14 tigers had died every year from 2012 to 2015, but the death toll went up to an alarming level of 33 in 2016.
As far as reasons are concerned, the death of 30 out of 89 tigers were attributed to the territorial clashes, while 22 of them have fallen prey to poachers, who killed them either by poisoning or through the electrocution.
The remaining 37 tigers are cited to die either due to their old age, illness or some other reasons.
Amid all these dismal reports about dwindling wildcats` population, state forest authorities claimed that there was some encouraging news too for tiger conservationists. The state has recorded a growth in their population as more cubs were born during this period.
"The tiger population was reduced to 257, according to the census carried out by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in 2011. However in 2014, the tiger population in the state has gone up to 308," MP`s Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF), Wildlife, Jitendra Agrawal told PTI.
Agrawal claimed that there are 216 tigers in only six tiger reserves of the state - Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Pench, Panna, Satpura and Sanjay National Park.
"In addition to these tiger reserves, there are a number of tigers in other forests of the state. If cubs are included, the number of tigers may go beyond 400. This data is an evidence of ongoing conservation work," he added.
He claimed that the data of union government also denotes that the number of tigers in Madhya Pradesh are rising gradually over the years.
The tiger conservationists, however, find this rise in deaths as negligence on part of the authorities.
"A task force constituted in 2005 by the Centre had recommended that the responsibility should be fixed in each case of unnatural death of the tiger. But this is not being done in the state," a Bhopal based tiger conservationist Ajay Dubey told PTI.
Dubey alleged that the conviction rate in case of the poaching is almost negligible in the state.
"Government officers are turning hostile in the court in tiger poaching cases. There is no expertise with the state to collect scientific evidence in such cases," he said.
The tiger conservationist also claimed that there was no coordination between forest and police departments to track down the criminals involved in poaching.
"The poor network and intelligence sharing are also making tigers more vulnerable," Dubey lamented.
On the other hand, Agrawal informed that an average amount between Rs 40-45 crore is being spent every year on the tiger conservation. In addition, an amount of Rs 10 Lakh is given to persons relocated from villages situated in tiger reserve areas.
In reply to a question, PCCF (Wildlife) claimed that there is sizeable decrease in tigers` hunting for commercial purposes.
"But, the tigers are now dying as farmers are putting up the electric wires or the traps to save their crops from wild animals. To avoid such a situation, we have increased the patrolling, in addition to creating awareness among the people," he added.