Over two dozen tigers have died in the forests of Madhya Pradesh in the past 11 months - the sixth time it has topped the list of states reporting dead tigers. Nine of these deaths were reported from the Bandhavgarh National Park, prompting Forest Minister Vijay Shah to meet with senior officials.
"Five to six tigers have died in two consecutive months. We will try to find out why it happened and will also find ways to ensure this does not happen again. We have received complaints against a few range officers and will take action against them," Mr Shah said after the meeting.
Officials say of the nine tigers that died in Bandhavgarh, four were killed in fights with rivals and one by a poacher. They do not, as yet, know what (or who) killed the other five.
Bandhavgarh National Park authorities had been alerted to a possible increase in illegal activities during the Covid lockdown period, a report in the National Tiger Conservation Authority's (NTCA) bi-monthly journal, STRIPES, said in June.
Madhya Pradesh, which is home to over 500 of India's tigers (according to the 2019 census only Karnataka and Uttarakhand have comparable populations), is also the state that has recorded the most tiger deaths over the past eight years.
According to NTCA data, 172 tigers died in Madhya Pradesh forests between 2012 and 2019, while Karnataka recorded 111 deaths and Uttarakhand 88 in the same period. The deaths were for various reasons, including natural causes, electrocution, territorial fights and, of course, poaching.
Overall, in that period, India lost 751 tigers. NTCA data showed that only 374 of them had died due to natural causes, with the rest being killed by poachers or in road, or electrocution, accidents, or in conflict with villages near their forests.
In 2013 the NTCA had directed the Madhya Pradesh government to prepare an action plan and establish tiger presence across different forest divisions and, crucially, non-forest areas, in order to better manage tiger territory and minimise their deaths.
Not much has been done to that end, so far.
India has recorded a pleasingly steady increase in its tiger population in the wild, going from 2,226 in 2014 to 2,967 according to a report released in July last year. The country is now home to over 70 per cent of the world's tiger population - a source of pride and an enormous responsibility.