Madhya Pradesh, which is known as the 'tiger state' of India, has lost 26 striped animals so far this year, as per the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
Reacting to it, Madhya Pradesh Forest Minister Vijay Shah told PTI that the average death rate of tigers was less compared to their birth rate in the state in last six years.
According to the National Tiger Conservation Authoritys (NTCA) website, out of the 26 tiger deaths reported since April this year, MP lost 21 felines inside the tiger reserves, including 10 in the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve.
No tiger death was reported in the first three months of this year, as per the data.
In 2019, the state lost 28 tigers while three cases of seizures of body parts due to poaching were also reported.
Karnataka, which is on the second position in the number of tigers in the country, registered eight deaths and two seizures of tiger body parts this year, as per the data.
The southern state lost 12 big cats last year.
"Right now, MP has 124 tiger cubs. The cubs were not counted during the last census (in 2018). In the next count, we are going to have more than 600 tigers," Shah said.
"We have more tigers than the area for them. Take the example of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve-it has 125 tigers whereas it has the territory to house only 90," he said.
The minister attributed the big number of tiger deaths in Bandhavgarh to the territorial fight among the big cats for space and dominance.
Earlier, MP had lost the ''tiger state'' tag to Karnataka in the all India tiger estimation exercise for 2010, primarily due to alleged poaching in the Panna Tiger Reserve. That time, MP had 257 tigers compared to 300 in Karnataka.
In the 2014 tiger census, MP slipped to no.3 position in the country with 308 striped animals after Uttarakhand (340) and Karnataka (408).
However, MP regained the tag in the 2018 census with 526 big cats, two more than in Karnataka.
Wildlife activist Ajay Dubey said Madhya Pradesh lacks a special tiger protection force.
"We have filed a petition in the high court for the formation of the special force which is pending. Karnataka has such a special force, thus tigers there are protected," he said.
The Centre in 2006 asked states to form the special force and offered to bear its expenditure, but MP has not formed it, he noted.
Karnataka has five tiger reserves and the number of striped animals there (as per the last count) was just two less than Madhya Pradesh, which has around six tiger reserves. "MP should learn from this," he said.
A tiger was allegedly killed and buried in Shahdol district earlier this month, he said, noting that some people have been arrested in the case.
The recovery of a severed tiger head in the Panna Tiger Reserve last month suggests that poachers are operating in the wildlife areas, he said.