INDIA:WHERE HAVE ALL THE TIGERS GONE?
INDIA:WHERE HAVE ALL THE TIGERS GONE?
2005-04-13 at 10:58:00 am #8806Where have all the tigers gone?The recent suspension of eight forestry officials for failing
to protect tigers in India’s Sariska National Park has highlighted the setbacks
to Project Tiger, a major conservation effort established in the 1980s by the
then prime minister, Indira Gandhi. What has gone wrong?
Authorities in Rajasthan acted as part of an ongoing investigation into the
disappearance of many – if not all – of the state’s tigers.
Conservationists say the number of tigers in India has dropped alarmingly in
recent years, and that forest officials in many game reserves have been covering
up the problem.
The latest crisis was brought on by the discovery that for months, game
wardens in Sariska National Park, one of India’s most visited reserves, have
been overstating the number of tigers they have.
Valmik Thapar, one of India’s most respected tiger experts, told BBC World
Service’s Analysis programme that the alarm was raised when a team from the
Wildlife Institute of India, doing a training course on tracking tigers, failed
to find any evidence of them in 15 days of looking.
“Basically, there have been no tigers in Sariska since October 2004,” Mr
“While I was there two weeks ago, there were 20 Jeeps full of foreign
tourists, and the guides were pointing, saying ‘maybe a tiger’s going to come
from the bush’. There are no tigers to come from the bush.”
Responsibility and blame
India is home to 40% of the world’s tigers and was said to have over 4,000
animals in the late 1980s, after the late Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi,
launched Project Tiger – a system of national parks and sanctuaries aimed at
Official records now claim there are 3,723 – but many conservationists say
the true figure is much lower.
The disappearance of India’s most prized natural symbol has prompted a
Poaching is an underground
criminal activity that is simply not addressed in our tiger reserves in India
Belinda Wright, Wildlife Protection Society of
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has ordered an investigation and already the
Rajasthan state government has started sacking several of its park officials.
LN Dave, the Minister for Forest and Environment in Rajasthan, has said he
accepts responsibility for the loss of tigers – but not the blame.
“I accept the responsibility – but in reality, we see that these events have
taken place because of the lax attitude of subordinate officials.
“Whoever is found liable will be punished.”
Mr Dave, and other state officials, have suggested that extensive mining and
farming might have scared the tigers away.
It has been hopefully suggested that the tigers might be hiding, and return
Vijendra Pahul Singh, an MP who speaks for the state government, said that
poaching is widespread throughout India.
“This has been happening all over the country, not just Rajasthan,” he added.
“It’s very sad that in Sariska, it was done on a bigger scale. We are very
sad about it, we are very concerned about it, and we will see that this is not
repeated again on other predators, like panthers.”
Conservationists are more explicit about the extent of the damage poachers
Belinda Wright, executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of
India, said that there has been an alarming rise in poaching across the Bengal
tiger’s traditional habitat, from the Indian subcontinent down to Thailand and
“Poaching is an underground criminal activity that is simply not addressed in
our tiger reserves in India,” she said.
The main reason, it is believed, is the high price to be gained from the use
of tiger parts in traditional Chinese medicine.
The head, skin, claws, meat, blood and penis all command high prices. A whole
body, ground down and separated into various medicines, could in total command
Ms Wright said she believed the true figure for the number of tigers left in
India is 2,000 – “if we’re extremely lucky.”
“Tiger counting is a very difficult thing anyway, and for these amazing
census to come out saying ’30 males, 20 females and one cub’ is bizarre.
“But I think there are very few parks in India that have high-density tiger
populations – which is obviously the objective of all this.
“I think most of them have critically low-density populations, with the
pressures and problems on these critically low populations. So I think it’s very
Mr Thapar said that the job of counting tigers must be taken out of the hands
of the park wardens, who have, he believes, too much of a vested interest in
overstating the numbers.
“Focus on protection,” he added.
“Protect your park. When it’s not protected, tigers die.”