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 user 2005-04-13 at 11:00:00 am Views: 50
  • #8809
    Where 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
    Thapar added.

    “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
    protecting them.

    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
    national outcry.

    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
    have done.

    Low-density populations

    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
    around $50,000.

    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.”