DR K Ullas Karanth , Director for Science-Asia, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Director, Centre for Wildlife Studies, speaks to Meera Bhardwaj on tiger deaths in the Bandipur-Nagarahole region.
In the last seven and a half months, 11 tigers have died in Karnataka, with 10 alone in these two Protected Areas. What could be the reasons for this region to witness so many deaths in such a short period?
My research shows that the combined tiger population in these two reserves is about 150 tigers of age over one year but with natural fluctuations around this number.
These data also show that expected annual losses (including deaths and dispersal) should be 15-20 per cent or about 20 to 30 tigers per year. A significant proportion of this would be from deaths. Not all tigers or their deaths are detected, only a fraction is. As far as natural mortalities (fights, injuries, starvation of cubs) are concerned, the reported numbers appear to fit the pattern.
August alone saw three deaths in Nagarahole - two out of three cubs have died which were abandoned by their mother. Could these cubs have been saved?
When an adult tigress with cubs dies, her cubs will starve to death. I am sure the third cub must also have died. It is impossible to find every dead tiger in the vast jungles, unless the animal has a radio-collar. We must remember that in the wild, every tiger dies a painful death.
I do not think we should intervene. New tigers are born to replace the ones lost and occupy the space they once occupied. And that is how nature has worked for millions of years.
Compared to the last two years - tiger deaths and seizures have increased. Are protection measures not enough and if so, what measures need to be initiated at Bandipur-Nagarahole?
Our research data shows that tiger densities in Nagarahole have naturally fluctuated between 8 and 14 tigers per 100 sqkm. These are some of the highest wild tiger densities in the world. It is likely that these fluctuations will get reflected in numbers of detection of deaths each year.
However, cases of deliberate poaching must be aggressively followed up and prosecuted. I believe regular patrolling based on community level intelligence and proper leadership at Range and Park level are the tools for efficient protection, not drones and other such technologies. Nagarahole has a good tradition of patrolling going back to the days of the legendary Ranger M K Chinnappa and tradition needs to be kept up.
Investigations into tiger deaths in Karnataka or elsewhere and the reasons for the deaths are still awaited in many cases for the last five years. Are we so poor in expertise that it is difficult to ascertain the reasons for deaths?
In many cases, if the carcass is detected too late, it is impossible to find the reason for the death. In other cases, while the cause of death is known to be poaching, lack of vigorous follow up seems to be an issue that needs a closer look.