Tiger numbers decline in India
Poaching, economic development take a toll
October 22, 1996
Web posted at: 5:30 p.m. EDT (2130 GMT)
From New Delhi Bureau Chief Anita Pratap
NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- Experts say that illegal wildlife
trade ranks among the most lucrative rackets in the world --
in the range of such enterprises as narcotics and arms
smuggling. The international police organization Interpol
estimates the annual turnover in wildlife trade is over $6
In India, where 60 percent of the world's tigers live, tiger
poaching has become a major threat.
On average, a tiger is killed every 18 hours in India,
according to a report by the Environmental Investigation
Agency, a British non-governmental organization. The report
backs up what many activists suspected.
"Within five years, India's tigers will be extinct unless
immediate action is taken to prevent it," says Michael Day,
founder of the watchdog organization Tiger Trust.
In an undercover operation, Day claims to have documented the
poaching of 95 Indian tigers last year. And that, he says, is
only a fraction of the slaughter.
Most Indian experts agree that several hundred tigers are
being poached every year -- and they believe there are only
about 2,500 tigers left in the wild. Indian authorities,
however, dispute that number, claiming there may be as many
Tigers are killed for their body parts, which are then
smuggled to China and other Asian countries. Virtually every
part of the tiger is used as an ingredient in traditional
Day accuses the World Wide Fund (WWF) India and Indian
authorities of wasting funds and failing to tackle tiger
poaching head on.
I.D. Nayar, an ex-WWF employee, charges that money intended
for conservation was diverted to "wasteful expenditures" such
as glitzy functions and glossy brochures. Nayar and several
others recently left WWF-India.
Prominent Indian tiger experts agree that very little is
being done in the field to save the tiger.
"We have to be out there in the forests," cautions Ashok
Kumar of the Wildlife Protection Society of India.
Valmik Thapar, from the cat specialist group of the World
Conservation Union, says that time is being wasted on
"There is a lot of lip service, rhetoric and file pushing,"
Thapar says, "but people are not getting their feet dirty in
the tiger's home."
WWF-India denies the charges, placing the blame on the Indian
authorities who actually carry out anti-poaching operations.
Samar Singh, secretary-general of WWF-India, says that the
system designed to protect the tiger is inherently weak, and
that the people who should enforce the rules "lack the will
But while conservationists pass the buck and trade charges
against one another, the trade in tiger parts flourishes --
possibly pushing the Indian tiger closer to its doom.
The report released Tuesday also said that economic expansion
was threatening the tiger's livelihood as well, with
development encroaching on the tiger's already shrunken
habitat. The Indian government regularly grants timber and
mineral companies rights to operate in and around wildlife
reserves where tigers and other endangered species live, the
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