With the number of tigers dead in the country crossing the 50 mark this year, a worried government is convening a series of meetings with 17 tiger-range states to investigate the issue.

“The first meeting will be held on Thursday with directors from tiger reserves from Northern India such as Corbett, Dudhwa and Kaziranga,” said a senior official from National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) which is holding the meeting on behalf of the Centre.

He said meetings will be held with other directors of tiger reserves in Central and Southern India in a phased manner by October 6.

Although the government maintains that at least 52 tigers have died so far this year across the country, the NGOs estimate the toll to be 66 and have attributed the deaths to shrinking habitat, poaching and man-animal conflicts.

While officials say 15 deaths were due to poaching, the NGO Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) led by wildlife expert Belinda Wright puts the number at 23.

“Of 52 tiger deaths, 15 were due to poaching. Ten poaching cases took place outside protected areas (PAs) due to poisoning. This indicates that the PAs are still safe for the cats,” the NTCA official said.

Though the NGOs and government differ on the number of dead tigers, both agree that big cats perished due to factors such as old age, territorial fights, tiger-human conflict, accident and diseases.

The degradation of tiger habitat and the failure of the authorities to make the core areas inviolate are among the major reasons for tigers to prey on livestock on the forest fringes. They also become man-eaters as a result.

Statistics collected from different parts of India by the WPSI say that between January and August this year, at least 66 tigers have been killed. It added that the country lost 832 tigers to poachers between 1994 and 2007, despite the government spending crores of rupees to save them.

National tiger census figures released in Jan 2008 showed that the estimated population of the tiger during the census period was 1,411.