Even as the national tiger census-2018 continues, the Bandipur National Park in Karnataka has lost two of its tigers -- a sub-adult male and a female -- and an elephant, officials said on Saturday.
While officials await lab reports, they suspect poisoning or contamination of water-pit near the carcasses to be the reason of their death.
"The samples of animal and water have been sent to the lab in Coimbatore. We are suspecting poisoning but there are many other facts which rule that out. We are wait for reports," P Sridahar, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF)-Wildlife, Karnataka told IANS.
The Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Karnataka has an estimated 107 to 134 tigers, which is second highest in India after Corbett Tiger Reserve (169 to 261) in Uttarakhand, according to the last 2014 tiger census.
A 12-year-old female elephant was also found dead about 300 meters from the carcasses of the tigers. All three animals are suspected to have died between Thursday and Friday, January 25 and 26.
The incident occurred in the famous Gopal Swami Betta range of the national park which is famous for its healthy pasture lands often used by the villagers on the periphery for grazing their cattle.
While the national park officials are still unclear if the incident was sort of revenge killing by villagers after they were barred from grazing their cattle in the notified area, activists believe otherwise.
According to Field Director of Bandipur National Park Ambady Madhav, the water-pit were, however, safe as other animals also drank from the same sources and did not show signs of poisoning through contamination.
"There are two tanks, both natural, and one is very big. We are suspecting poisoning but investigation is still underway," the Bandipur Field Director told IANS.
Meanwhile, activists are demanding that a case be registered against unknown people.
According to Praveen Bhargava from Karnataka-based NGO Wildlife First, report of cattle killing by carnivore came a few days before the tigers were found dead.
Advocating more clarity in the matter and stating that sometimes autopsy reports were fudged to avoid conflicts, Bhargava suspects retaliation by some villagers.
"It is highly likely that it was a poisoning case mostly done as retaliation. This is an offence and calls for seven years' imprisonment irrespective of fact whether carcasses were harvested or not," Bhargava said.
He added that the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) must increase its list of credible NGOs and people from civil societies as such matter could not be a closed-door affair.
According to Sridhar, teams of volunteers are sent from time to time amid villagers for awareness and allay the anger, if any.
At least four tigers have died since January 13, 2018. The other two died in Madhya Pradesh, of which one tigress was killed by poisoning in Seoni district, while the other died fighting another tiger.