India lost 41 tigers in seven months.Is this true of farcical data?
Official data reveal India lost 41 tigers in seven months this year. It made headlines. For the wrong reasons.
First, there is nothing unusual about the figure. Consider the annual death count since 2009: 61 (2014), 76 (2013), 89 (2012), 56 (2011), 53 (2010) and 66 (2009). Go back a decade and you will find 411 tiger deaths recorded between 2001 and 2005. That is about 80 deaths a year. If anything, the death-population ratio is improving on official records.
Second, many more tigers are dying in the wild without getting into official records. A tiger carcass rots very quickly and usually decomposes beyond recognition before a forest guard chances upon one. On the other hand, when poachers strike, they don’t leave much of the animal behind — contrary to popular belief, tiger bone is now costlier than its pelt.
Given that we have more than 2,000 tigers, it is surprising that 41 deaths in seven months are being bandied about as high mortality. A tiger’s average life expectancy in the wild is about 12 years. Eight years ago, India counted 1,411 tigers. Assuming an even age distribution in that population, two-thirds of 1,411 tigers — aged four and above — must have died in the last eight years. Without even factoring in the high infant mortality, this gives us a ballpark figure of 960 deaths or an average of at least 120 deaths, annually.