New Delhi: At least 115 tigers died in India in 2017, according to official data.

With this, the number of big cat deaths has crossed the 100-mark for the second straight year, which means that on an average nine tigers have died every month for the past two years.

Reasons for the death of India’s national animal have ranged from electrocution, poaching, poisoning, infighting, natural deaths, human-tiger conflict to rail/road accidents.

Ninety-eight tiger bodies were recovered in 2017 while 17 were presumed dead on the basis of body parts seized, according to official data reviewed by Mint.

In 2016, the tiger mortality figure was 122, which was over 50% more than that in the previous year when the total tiger deaths were 80.

Of the 115 tiger deaths in 2017, the highest number was reported from Madhya Pradesh (28), followed by Maharashtra (21) and Assam (16), accounting for about 55% of the total number of deaths.

The data also revealed that 54 tiger deaths, or about 47% of the total deaths, were recorded outside tiger reserves. This is not surprising as about 40% of India’s tiger population is believed to be living in forests outside tiger reserves.

To check the dwindling population of tigers, the Indian government launched Project Tiger in 1973. India now has 50 tiger reserves that cover 2.12% of the country’s total geographical area.

According to the tiger census of 2014, India was home to 2,226 tigers, or about 60% of the world’s wild tiger population of about 3,890. Pressure on their habitat and poaching had seen their population decline to a low of 1,411 in 2006.

The 2018 tiger estimation is expected to start this month and their population is expected to rise.

Experts said that all tiger deaths need to be investigated.

“Each case needs to be investigated properly to its logical conclusion. If the tiger deaths are due to natural causes then there is no point of worry. But if deaths are unnatural and due to poaching, it’s a matter of serious concern," said S.P. Yadav, assistant secretary general at the Global Tiger Forum (GTF), an inter-governmental organization dedicated to tiger conservation. “If it is so, we need to pull our socks and must adopt intelligence-based patrolling beside modern tool and techniques for monitoring and investigation."

Tiger conservation has been high on the Indian government’s agenda. India and its neighbours Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh recently decided to conduct a joint census of their tiger population.

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