January 1, 2009 4:21:48 pm
At the beginning of this year, a ground-breaking, new, and scientific tiger census, which took two years to complete, announced that there were 1,411 wild tigers left in India. By November, the Government had admitted that of that number, 14 tigers had been poached this year. The figure actually may be nearly double.
The poaching cases registered and seizures of body parts of tigers this year show that around 27 of the big cats have been killed in 2008, making the number of wild tigers in India less than even 1,400, and showing that government efforts have failed so far to deter poachers.
“On an average, 25 tigers are poached every year,” says an official from the NTCA. Data compiled by the WPSI shows an equal number, 27 tigers, were killed in 2007.
In January, a tiger survey commissioned by the Government indicated that there were only five-seven tigers left in Panna. Now, tiger experts fear the number may actually be just two. Kanha, also in Madhya Pradesh, lost a tiger to poaching by electrocution, using an 11,000-volt current, this November.
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According to data compiled by the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), there have been 27 instances of tiger skins and parts being found in different parts of the country in 2008. The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), which came into existence this year, recovered a tiger skeleton from Gurgaon and two tiger skins from Himachal Pradesh, a case that involved a Tibetan national.
“Tiger killing may be higher than what recorded numbers tell us,” admits National Tiger Conservation Authority Member Secretary Rajesh Gopal. “Poachers are very clandestine and at times even a tiger carcass may not be found.”
A WCCB official said their main problem was that the trade in tiger parts was trans-country and inter-state, necessitating strong intervention from the Centre.
“Day before, we managed to get a case registered in Bihar for Dariya, a tiger poacher, who was arrested in December in Katni, Madhya Pradesh. A case had to be registered in Bihar where he is suspected to have poached tigers from the Valmiki tiger reserve. We have to expedite history-sheeting quickly to facilitate arrest of poachers who travel and escape extensively,” he added.
“The fact that tiger numbers are going down but poaching remains constant is a huge cause for concern. The number of tigers as per the Census is very low. If we don’t improve protection, India may well lose its tigers,” says Belinda Wright, Executive Director, WPSI.
The tiger census also shows another trend: that India’s tigers are now found only in areas with a high degree of protection, which is sanctuaries or existing tiger reserves. Recognising this, the NTCA has given approval to as many as 12 new tiger reserves this year, of which four — Pilibhit (Uttar Pradesh), Sunabeda (Orissa), Rapa Pani (MP) and Sahyadri (Madhya Pradesh) — have got in-principle approval.
The other four are proposed in Kaziranga (Assam); Mudumalai and Annamalai (Tamil Nadu); Udanti Sitanadi and Achanakmar (Chhattisgarh); Satkosia (Orissa); Dandeli Anssi (Karnataka); and Sanjay National Park (Madhya Pradesh).
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