New guidelines for probing tiger deaths in the pipeline

Forest guards to get clarity on investigation process

Worried over 82 tiger deaths this year in India, the highest in a decade, the environment ministry is finalising a standard operating procedure (SOP) to frame a set of guidelines for investigating such deaths by forest officials. But tiger conservators feel it may be too little and too late.

The procedure is awaiting the approval of environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan, who is in agreement with it.

“At present, there is no set procedure about what needs to be done in case a tiger death is reported. There is no clarity about the line of investigation, paper work and other formalities required,” a senior environment ministry official said.

“However, only a few instructions exist which are not even clear,” the official added.

The official said the new procedure will remove the ambiguity in handling tiger deaths, thus empowering forest guards with a clear process to follow during investigations.

The latest figure of tiger mortality available with the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) shows that 82 tigers have died till December 3. The alarming part is that 53 of these fell prey to poachers, mostly reported in Maharashtra and Karnataka, where 10 tigers were poached in each state.

Madhya Pradesh followed with eight deaths. The remaining 29 were reported as natural deaths. The figure stands far ahead of 56 tiger deaths in 2011, 53 in 2010 and 66 in 2009.

Largest population

India is home to the world’s largest tiger population, with 1,706 living in the wild across 41 tiger reserves. But the figure is almost a tenth of what it was —  say half a century ago.

Continuing its efforts to save the big cats, the official said, the environment ministry, along with NTCA, had drawn up the guidelines.

In May, the NTCA had asked forest department officials to treat death of a big cat as a case of poaching, unless proved otherwise.

However, there has been a tendency among forest department officials to describe the death of a tiger either from poisoning or other reasons as a natural death without examining the possibility of poaching.

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