Despite a 12 per cent rise in the population of big cats in the country, Madhya Pradesh popularly known as the ‘Tiger State’ witnessed a decline in their numbers resulting in loss of this coveted status to Karnataka, according to the latest tiger census report.

The big cat population has dropped to 257 in the latest tiger census from 300 tigers in 2006 in Madhya Pradesh.

“The decline in the tiger population in the State is mainly due to the loss of 24 tigers allegedly due to poaching in Panna tiger reserve which had as many striped animals in the year 2006,” a forest official told PTI today.

Efforts are underway to revive the big cat population in Panna. Three tigresses and a tiger had been translocated to it from others parks since last year and the exercise has seemed to pay off with two felines giving birth to five cubs last year.

The famous Kanha Tiger Reserve too had lost more than 25 tigers. In 2006, it had 89 tigers which had now dipped to 60, according to the latest census, he said.

Reports regarding tigers’ deaths had been trickling in from Kanha for more than two years. Forest officials contend that it was mainly due to territorial fights among them.

The 2006 tiger census report had recommended the State government that Kanha buffer zone needs to be extended South - West to increase the big cat habitat. This was implemented in toto, officials said.

Now, Karnataka has witnessed an increase of 10 tigers taking its big cat population to 300, according to the recent All India Tiger Estimation Exercise for 2010.

And MP, which is unhappy having lost the ‘tiger State’ tag, has shot off a letter to the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), in this regard.

“I am of view that the tiger population was more than what has come out in the latest big cat census given that we too have an internal mechanism to monitor striped animals, Principal Chief Conservator (Wildlife) H S Pabla said.

“Something has gone amiss. We have sent a letter requesting the WII to check their data base,” he said.

To press his point, Mr. Pabla said that there were 424 beats (areas having big cat) to monitor the tiger population in the state in 2006 which has risen to 495 now.

“This shows that there has been an increase in the tiger population in the State,” he added.

“The latest census report that the tiger population has gone down in Kanha too doesn’t appear to be correct as we send monthly reports to National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) on the number of tigers in the reserve,” Mr. Pabla said.

He said that their five reserves including Kanha were ranked high among the best managed reserves in the country.

The last tiger census report released on March 28 said that the stripped animal population has risen to 1,707 from 1,411 in 2006.