18 Feb 2008, 0411 hrs IST,Avijit Ghosh,TNN
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NEW DELHI: Tigers continue to die across India. Poisoned, being killed in road accidents or getting mortally wounded in alleged territorial fights ? since January 1, 2008, at least six more tigers have been found dead in several wildlife sanctuaries ranging from Katerniaghat in UP to Wynad in Kerala.
That’s not all. During the same period, wildlife officials have also seized two tiger skins and three bone pieces of the endangered animal, as per information collated by Wildlife Protection Society of India (See graphic). Forest authorities say this reaffirms that poachers and wildlife traders continue to be active.
According to them, man-animal conflict too has escalated in recent times. For instance, a top Karnataka police officer reveals that one of the villagers arrested last year for killing two female tigers in Chamrajnagar district was frank enough to own up the job since the tiger had killed one of his two bullocks and maimed the other. “There is a sense of revenge among them,” says K S N Chikkerur, IGP (CID), Forest.
According to Chikkerur, villagers often complain that the compensation provided by the forest department for cattle loss is meagre.
“Compensation must increase and it has to be quick,” he says. “We need to understand that villagers living on the fringe of wildlife reserves are our best bet in tiger protection.”
However, the police officer also admits villagers are also employed by poachers to carry out wildlife crimes. “Some of them have confessed to selling tiger skins for as little as Rs 1,500 whereas the poacher makes huge profits in the international market,” says Chikkerur.
A senior officer from an UP tiger reserve also admits that wildlife authorities are unable to rein in poachers.
“To provide protection from poachers, we need fast-moving vehicles, modern communication equipment and weapons and young, trained staff. We are short on all these counts,” he says.
Wildlife activists say forest officials sometimes cover-up a tiger’s unnatural death by attributing it to a territorial fight. They also feel much of the tiger protection is only paper work and platitudes. For instance, as Belinda Wright, executive director, WPSI points out that the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau set up last year “is not effectively operational yet, and until an experienced police officer is appointed to head the bureau it is unlikely that it will be.”
Wright believes the most immediate requirement is drastically improved enforcement. “We need dedicated tiger protection forces in all the areas with high density tiger populations, and better cross-border enforcement,” she says. Wright adds India also needs to encourage China to make their ban on trade in tiger parts permanent and to improve its enforcement against the illegal trade.
Until then, the number of tigers will continue to diminish alarmingly. The latest tiger census figures released earlier this month showed a mere 1,411 tigers alive as compared to 3,508 in 1997, a drastic dip of 60 per cent.
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