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India saw a record 126 tiger deaths in 2021: NTCA data

According to the National Tiger Conservation Authority, India's tiger conservation body, this is the highest toll since it began compiling data a decade ago

In this file photo taken on February 15, 2014 tiger cubs bath in their enclosure with their mother Aparna (right) at the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad. (AFP)

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India's tiger conservation body said 126 of the endangered big cats died in 2021, the highest toll since it began compiling data a decade ago.

The most recent death was recorded on Wednesday in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, according to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). The previous highest number of deaths per year before the authority began compiling data in 2012 was in 2016, when 121 perished, an AFP report explains. 

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India is home to around 75 percent of the world's tigers. An estimated 3,900 tigers remain in the wild. According to Panthera, the global big cat conservation organization, as recently as a century ago, as many as 100,000 wild tigers roamed across Asia. But today, this iconic animal occupies a mere four percent of its former range. 

This catastrophic population decline has been driven by a range of threats, including poaching of tigers and prey for illegal wildlife trade, overhunting of prey species by local population, habitat loss and fragmentation. Tigers are globally listed as “endangered” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Two years ago, the government announced the population had risen to 2,967 in 2018 from a record low of 1,411 in 2006, an achievement hailed as "historic" by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

This may have been partly down to the survey size, however, which used an unprecedented number of camera traps to identify individual tigers using stripe pattern recognition software.

Over the past decade the biggest cause of death was recorded by the NTCA as being "natural causes", but many also fell victim to poachers and "human-animal conflict".

Human encroachment on tiger habitats has increased in recent decades in the country of 1.3 billion people. Nearly 225 people were killed in tiger attacks between 2014 and 2019, according to government figures.

The government has made efforts to manage the tiger population better, however, reserving 50 habitats across the country for the animals.

"India has now firmly established a leadership role in tiger conservation, with its benchmarking practices being looked at as a gold standard across the world," a government release said in July last year.

(With inputs from AFP)

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