India is striving hard to save its endangered big cats. Despite conservation efforts, over 80 tigers have died so far this year with more than half of them victims to poaching. It's the highest figure in a decade.
The increasing number of tiger deaths due to poaching has left forest officials troubled.
Despite improved watchfulness and more funding for tiger conservation, as well as other measures, they have not able to halt the trend.
Most notable is the overall figure, with 83 tigers dying - nearly 50 falling prey to poachers. Most of the killings were reported in the states of Maharashtra and Karnataka; 14 tigers being slaughtered in each. Uttrakhand followed with 12 deaths and Madhya Pradesh with 8.
The remaining deaths in the total figure were reported as having been natural. The number stands far higher than the 56 tiger deaths in 2011, 53 in 2010 and 66 in 2009.
Mortality rates have been unusually high in the Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand and in the Tadoba Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra.
"India has had some success in recent years in stopping the deaths of tigers. Their numbers had risen by over 20 per cent since 2008, to 1,706 from 1,411. In some ways, this success could be leading to the greater numbers of deaths," said S. P Yadav, the deputy inspector general of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
The tigers live in and around 41 reserves, national parks and protected forests throughout the country.
Earlier this year, forest authorities were putting more effort in conservation by moving tigers within sanctuaries, radio-collaring the wild cats and installing electronic cameras to track their movements. But records show they have still been vulnerable to poaching.
Poachers keeping ahead
"The situation is really serious in the country. The motivation for poaching has become more lucrative and the dire need now is better intelligence led enforcement as the network of poachers seems to be ahead in the game," Belinda Wright, a prominent wildlife conservationist in India and executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, told DW.
Other conservationists believe poaching is only going to increase as the increased demand for tiger parts makes poachers more aggressive with every passing this year.
"With the improved tiger count, they become easy targets. The increasing demand is making poachers take unusual steps this year in their desperation to increase supply," Vijay Jung Thapa, a wildlife enthusiast told DW.
To counter the rising mortality numbers, the NTCA has issued a red alert across tiger reserves and declared that all tiger deaths will be treated as poaching unless proven otherwise. The authority is also undertaking intensive patrolling monitoring data from camera traps for any disappearances from tiger reserves.
Ban on tourists
In July, the Supreme Court had banned tourists from entering the core reserves of tiger sanctuaries in a move it thought would help cut down poaching. But this ban was subsequently lifted with the court asking every state to prepare detailed tiger conservation plans.
Core areas in India's tiger reserves that host sufficient prey animals, shelter and water for the big cats are critical for conservation of the tiger, which faces extinction in India.
India faces intense international scrutiny over its tiger conservation, as it holds half of the world's estimated 3,200 tigers in its reserves.
Tiger parts fetch particularly high prices on the black market, driven by demand from traditional Chinese medicine practitioners
Tiger skins fetch prices in the range of about 11,000 to 21,000 US dollars and bones are sold for about 1,000 US dollars per 100 grammes.