On July 29 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was declaring Madhya Pradesh as No 1 state on tiger count, two big cats had already died in an overnight battle in Bandhavgarh. Another tiger died in the Ghunghutty Range near Umaria, and one is missing since Tuesday. Though it doesn't alter its ranking till 2022, there is concern on whether the state is doing enough vindicate its status.
As per the census, Madhya Pradesh has 526 tigers to Karnataka's 524. Uttarakhand is a distant third with 448. Madhya Pradesh can take pride in the fact that its tiger population was up 70 per cent over the past census figure of 318. Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (APCCF) Alok Kumar said this rise should be attributed to better environment and management of wildlife.
Madhya Pradesh was the leader until 2006 with over 300 tigers in its six reserves. Then it fell behind Karnataka in 2010. In 2014, Uttarakhand also overtook it, according to the Status of Tigers in India report. Tiger count is based on the census results announced every four years.
Tigress T-62 was reported killed along with its cub in a clash with tiger T-33 in Bandavgarh on July 28 over what foresters describe as territorial and mating rights. Then T-33 was reported missing. The third tiger was killed in a battle between two tigers on July 30 afternoon. This one was just one and a half years old, according to SDO Forest, Rahul Mishra.
More than seven years ago, Madhya Pradesh had resolved to constitute a Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF). The proposal still lies on paper as there is no hint of the battalion being raised. With 141 tiger deaths, the state has registered highest number of fatalities since 2012 and the reasons could be territorial conflicts, cannibalism, poaching, ageing or ailments.
While the tiger population has witnessed a remarkable rise, the state's forest cover is depleting fast. The state has lost 17,781.588 acres of Very Dense Forest (VDF) and Moderately Dense Forest (MDF) in last four years, according to the Forest Survey of India (FSI) report. With the shrinking habitat, the tigers are forced to move out of the protected areas and become vulnerable to poaching. The state reported 14 cases of poaching this year.
Madhya Pradesh is the second largest state in terms of forest area in the country, but the forest is constantly shrinking in the state, the report says.
Between 2013 and 2015, the state lost 14,826.323 acres of land (60 sq km). Between 2015 and 2017, the state lost 2955.265 acres of forest land (12 sq km), says the report.
In 2013, the state had 77,522 sq km forest area, which reduced to 77,462 sq km by 2015 - marking a loss of 60 sq km (14826.323 acres). And between 2015 and 2017, the state has lost 48 sq km (11,861 acres) of forest land and total forest area shrunk from 77, 462 to 77,414 sq km. The FSI survey, conducted biennially, had pointed out sharp decline in dense forest areas of Balaghat, Bharhwani, Burhanpur, Ashoknagar, Dhar, Guna, Indore, Khandwa, Raisen, Sagar, Sheopur and Vidisha districts.
( With inputs from IANS )