THE STRAIT TIMES
August 22, 2009
by Ravi Vellor, South Asia Bureau Chief
Talks of tiger poaching
India's minister set to raise issue of demand for tiger parts during China visit
NEW DELHI – INDIA'S feisty environment minister says he intends to tackle at source the reason his country's efforts to protect the tiger are failing – China's demand for tiger parts that fuels poaching of the big cats.
'I think we have a good enough, mature relationship with the Chinese to tell them that while we are doing our best to curb poaching, you cannot be oblivious to the fact that demand for tiger parts is the real reason for this,' said Mr Jairam Ramesh, whose ministry oversees the environment and forests.
The 55-year-old Mr Ramesh, influential as a speechwriter and political strategist to Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, is visiting China next week for four days for discussions on environmental issues.
Top of the Indian Institute of Technology and Carnegie Mellon-educated engineer's agenda is to work with China on evolving a common stand on climate change and joint studies on monitoring the receding Himalayan glaciers. The two Asian giants will also discuss ways to cooperate in forestry.
But Mr Ramesh's determination to bring up the issue of poaching underscores his alarm at the dwindling population in India of the Royal Bengal tiger.
Demand for tiger penis, teeth, claws and other parts from China and elsewhere in East Asia – where these are associated with aphrodisiacal qualities – has fuelled a lucrative trade in poaching. The animal parts typically are sent overland to Nepal or Bangladesh, from where they are shipped out.
India had more than 40,000 of the majestic beasts 100 years ago and tiger hunts were a popular pastime of the erstwhile royals and feudals. By 1973, the tiger population had dwindled to about 1,800 animals.
Project Tiger, launched in 1973 when the late Indira Gandhi was ruling the country, won worldwide acclaim as a conservation success, helping to double the tiger population to about 3,500 by the mid-1990s.
Since then, however, the programme has suffered a setback. Today, India is believed to have fewer than 1,300 tigers in the wild.
The non-governmental organisation Wildlife Protection Society of India estimates that India has lost 66 tigers since the year began, of which 23 were killed by poachers.
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