BHOPAL: Madhya Pradesh, once popularly known as the 'tiger state', has lost 17 big cats so far this year, as per the figures of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
The wildlife activists have blamed the bureaucracy's lethargy for the death of tigers, a charge denied by the state's top wildlife officer.
India is currently home to 70 per cent of the world's tiger population in over 17 states and 50 sanctuaries across the country.
According to NTCA's figures, 71 tigers died in India between January 1 and September 29 this year.
Of these, 17 died in MP, followed by 14 in Karnataka, 12 each in Maharashtra and Uttarakhand, six in Uttar Pradesh, four in Assam, two each in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and one each in Odisha and Rajasthan, as per the data.
In MP, three tigers died last month. While two felines died on September 24 and September 29 at the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, one death was reported on September 25 in Pench Tiger Reserve. In April, eight tiger deaths were reported from the state, as per the NTCA's data.
Of the total 100 tiger deaths in India last year, 30 were reported from Madhya Pradesh, according to the figures of NTCA, which is a statutory body under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
Wildlife activist Ajay Dubey alleged that MP has turned into a "tiger killing state."
The bureaucrats lack the will to protect tigers, said Dubey, the founder of NGO Prayatna which is working for tiger conservation in the state.
The states like Karnataka, Maharashtra and Odisha, having a sizable number of big cats, have formed Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF), while MP is yet to do it, he said.
A tiger was killed with snares and traps inside the Kanha Tiger Reserve on March 11 this year. Another feline was killed by poachers at a forest in Betul district on April 22 this year, he claimed.
This shows how vigil is being maintained in the reserves, he said.
Last year, three cubs were poisoned to death on March 28 inside the core area of Pench Tiger Reserve, while another one was electrocuted in the Kanha Tiger Reserve on October 22, 2016, Dubey further claimed.
The tigers are not secure even inside the reserves in MP and it appears the poachers are having a free run, he said.
Another wildlife activist, Navneet Maheshwari, said the tigers were dying in MP primarily because of poaching.
The prey base of tigers has shrunk and that is why the striped animals are moving out of the protected areas, leading to man-animal conflict, he said.
If a tiger often kills domestic animals in a village, the people there either poison it or kill it, he said.
The tigers are moving out of the protected areas as the grasslands where they prey have thinned due to the management's failure, he said.
"The deaths of the tigers are also taking place due to the infighting among them for the territory which has thinned.
A tiger's territory ranges from 40 to 50 sq kms," he said.
However, Madhya Pradesh's principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) Jitendra Agrawal said MP is an ideal state in terms of wildlife management in the country and refuted the charge of poaching.
Asked about the alleged incidents of rampant poaching in the state, Agrawal said, "The media only sees negative in our department. Our wildlife management is too good."
On the formation of STPF, Agrawal said the state government has to take a call on it.
"We have completed our job and sent papers regarding it for cabinet approval two years ago," the official said.
He also said that the state's Tiger Strike Force was doing an excellent work.
Notably, Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan had in July said India is still battling with poachers to conserve tigers, but expressed hope that with collective effort, the number of big cats in the country would be doubled in the next five years.