A total of 126 tigers died in India in 2021, data from the National Tiger Conservation Authority showed on Thursday. It surpassed the record high of 121 deaths reported in 2016.

This was also the highest number of fatalities recorded in a year since the authority started compiling the data in 2012.

The authorities said that the majority of the tigers had died of natural causes over the decade. Some were killed by poachers, while few others fell prey to the man-animal conflict.

Till December 29, Madhya Pradesh had reported the highest number of deaths of tigers (41), followed by Maharashtra (25), Karnataka (15) and Uttar Pradesh (9), The Times of India reported.

An unidentified official with the Uttar Pradesh forest department told the newspaper that the actual number of deaths could be higher. “Many tigers die of natural causes inside the forest area and their deaths go unreported,” the official said.

Sanjay Pathak, the field director of Uttar Pradesh’s Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, said that the tiger population has increased considerably because of which, the number of deaths, too, may have increased, according to The Times of India.

“The mortality rate being high should not be a cause for alarm,” he said. “The death toll this year is less than 5%. Officials are putting efforts across India for the conservation of forests and wildlife species.”

The Centre in 2019 had said that the country’s tiger population had increased to 2,967 in 2018 from 1,411 in 2006. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while releasing the data, had praised the conservation efforts of wildlife authorities and said that India “is one of the world’s biggest and most secure habitats”.

India has about 70% of the world’s tiger population.