Mahim Pratap Singh

BHOPAL: The dwindling tiger population in Madhya Pradesh is causing concern to the State authorities.

Adding to the worries is the recent death of a tigress and a leopard in two days in Van Vihar zoo here. In the past five days, five tigers, five leopards and three lions have died in the zoo.

“There has not been any decline. The recent death of a tigress and a leopard in Van Vihar is due to natural reasons,” Principal Chief Conservator P.V. Gangopadhyaya said. “The exact reasons will be clear only after the post-mortem report is available.”

Madhya Pradesh is home to 300 of the 1,411 tigers alive in India, according to the 2006 wildlife census. However, the number has steadily declined of late, prompting Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan to transfer the directors of the National Parks in Panna, Kanha and Bandhavgarh.

The State boasts of nine National Parks, 20 wildlife sanctuaries and a huge Forest Department but lacks medical facilities for wild animals. A meeting in 2008 of the Wildlife Board presided over by the Chief Minister approved a wildlife health and forensic centre, proposed by the Jabalbur Veterinary College. The State Government has sanctioned Rs.56 lakh for this Rs.4.5-crore project. However, it is yet to materialise for lack of assistance from the Centre, officials say.

The exact number of tigers living in Panna remains hazy. While the State Government puts the number at 24, unofficial sources say there are no tigers left.

The Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun, puts the figure at two, while Chief Wildlife Warden for Madhya Pradesh H.S. Pabla says there are 5-6 left there.

“The tiger population in the national parks of Madhya Pradesh is either stable or growing, except in Panna where there has been a decline, from 24 to 5-6,” Mr. Pabla says. “A committee has been set up to look into the matter. We will have to wait for its report.”

The Centre sanctioned Rs.10 crore to the State for tiger conservation last year. Tapping this money, the State Government has set up a 60-member tiger strike force to combat poachers and hunters. This group is in addition to the Special Tiger Protection Force. The tiger strike force is headquartered in Bhopal, with regional offices in Jabalpur, Gwalior, Indore, Katni and Sagar.