Task force says tigers under siege

Aug 5, 2005, New Delhi (Reuters)

An Indian task force said on Friday that the country's tigers were under siege from poachers and people living in protected reserves, and called for thousands of villagers to be relocated to save the endangered big cat.

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There was national shock after reports in March that the population of 16-18 tigers at a leading sanctuary in western India could be wiped out by poachers within a year, and that the risks were similar at other reserves.

Responding to the outcry, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set up the tiger task force, headed by well-known environmentalist Sunita Narain who submitted the body's report to him on Friday.

"The tiger is under attack from poachers, miners and other exploitative activity," the report said. "Worse, it is also under siege from people who co-inhabit its land. The challenge is to ensure that the siege is lifted."

The task force called for relocation of thousands of people living in 250 villages located inside India's 28 tiger reserves.

"What is suggested is a time-bound program to identify those villages which must be relocated because they are located in crucial tiger habitats," Narain said in the report.

She added that there were another 1,250 villages in non-core areas of the reserves and it would be impossible to relocate the people living in those hamlets.

"In this case, the country has no choice but to make peace with the communities that share the tiger's home," Narain said, calling for their involvement in forest reserve tourism. "If not, we will lose the war of conservation, tiger by tiger."

Chinese Medicine

India's tiger population has fallen to about 3,700 from roughly 40,000 a century ago, mainly due to rampant poaching.

But conservationists suspect the number could be less than 2,000.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Singh said the head of the government had agreed to create a federal wildlife crime bureau, as suggested by the five-member task force.

The task force said India would have to work with China to stop huge illegal trade in tiger body parts. Tiger organs, teeth, bones and penises are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

The task force report also slammed a "faulty and fudged system" to count tigers at Sariska that showed a growth in the big cat population while tigers were in reality disappearing.

India's conviction rate of those charged with poaching of endangered animals is less than five percent, with many accused of poaching getting off due to lack of evidence.

In May, the government said poachers had killed at least 114 tigers between 1999 and 2003, while just 59 of the big cats had died of natural causes during the same period.

India Must Protect Its Tigers From Angry Villagers, Report Says

Aug. 9 (Bloomberg) -- India, home to the largest number of wild tigers in the world, needs to protect its forests and the people who live in and around them to safeguard the endangered animal, according to a report.

The tiger is under attack from poachers, miners and other exploitative activity, according to the report submitted by the Tiger Task Force on Aug. 5 to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It is also under siege from the people who share its land and who haven't benefited from conservation, the report said.

The task force, set up in April 2005, four months after the Indian government found that all the tigers at a reserve in the northern state of Rajasthan had been killed, said the protection system in the Sariska reserve had "completely collapsed,'' allowing officials to report inflated numbers as poachers hunted the animals. India had 3,642 tigers at the last count in 2002.

"It's an absolute shock,'' P.K. Sen, director of WWF India's tiger and wildlife program, said in an interview from New Delhi. He estimates India currently has less than 2,000 tigers. "I am weeping now.''

The government's failure to relocate people who live near tiger reserves or compensate them for the loss of livestock and crops led to the increased killing of tigers as the villages lashed back, the Tiger Task Force said. Three tigers were killed last year in Pench, Maharashtra, by villagers after the tigers attacked their cattle.

Exclusive Sanctuaries

The task force says that some sanctuaries can be maintained exclusively for tigers, although there will be reserves in which people will have to live. The current policy of "guards, guns and fences'' is bound to fail in India, which has a population of over one billion, said Sunita Narain, head of the task force.

"It can't be done across the country,'' Narain, who is also director of the Center for Science and Environment, said in an interview yesterday.

Over the past 30 years, 80 villages and 2,904 families have been relocated from tiger sanctuaries by the government, the report said. About 1,500 families, or 325,000 people, may still live within the 28 tiger reserves, the task force estimated.

People have to be moved from the reserves to make the sanctuaries "inviolate'' for the tigers, said activist Valmik Thapar, a member of the task force and author of "Land of the Tiger.''

'No-Win' Situation

"Each tiger must eat 50 cow-sized animals a year to survive and if you put it amidst cows and people, the conflict will be eternal and perennial,'' Thapar wrote in a dissenting note attached to the report. "Such a scenario will be a 'no win' situation for everyone.''

India's federal and state governments have spent about 3.73 billion rupees ($86 million) on protecting about 1,500 tigers over 30 years, starting in 1972. The country doubled its annual spending on protecting tigers to 300 million rupees in 2002.

The Sariska reserve spent 10 million rupees on protecting each of its estimated 22 tigers during the past 25 years, while other sanctuaries spent an average of 2.4 million rupees, the task force said.

The number of tigers at Sariska began declining in 1999. Only one tiger was spotted by the park's staff in 2003, down from as many as 17 in 1998. The reserve's administrators reported that the number of tigers had increased to 26 from 24 in the same period.

Wild Tigers

India's 28 tiger reserves occupy 37,761 square kilometers (14,580 square miles), or one percent of the country's geographical area. The number of tigers in the sanctuaries rose almost six-fold to 1,576 in 2002, from 268 in 1972, the report said. Tigers outside the reserves increased by 32 percent to 2,066 in the same period.

Wild tigers in most parts of the world were wiped out during the past 100 years, according to the WWF's Web site. Tigers have been extinct on the islands of Bali and Java since 1972 and the animals disappeared from around the Caspian Sea by the 1950s. About 5,100 to 7,500 tigers remain in the world, the Fund estimated.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has asked the ministry of environment & forests to study the task force's report and propose remedies within three months.

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