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Conservationists send open letter to PM urging action to save the tiger

05 June 2007
Tiger United Front

World Environment day over 140 tiger experts, NGOs and prominent citizens sent an open letter to the Prime Minister expressing the critical need to act immediately to save India’s national animal – the tiger. Recent government monitoring studies have unequivocally confirmed what conservationists have been been saying for years: the tiger is in steep decline; it is not adequately protected and unless action is taken now, it will be too late to stem the slide to extinction.

It is likely that there are less tigers in India now than there were when Project Tiger was set up in 1973. Clearly the present system is failing. The signatories request the Prime Minister’s intervention in making the wildlife management system more effective, more professional, more open and more accountable. Today’s scenario demands change in the system: our forests and wildlife can no longer be successfully managed by a department that was set up for commercial forestry, a body which is closed to changing ideas and new knowledge.

The signatories believe that it is time that the Central and State Governments recognise the crucial importance of wilderness areas and wildlife to the well-being of the country. They have requested the Prime Minister to give nature the status it deserves by bifurcating the present Ministry so that wildlife and forest issues have an exclusive Ministry.

In the eyes of the world the tiger and India are synonymous. India, the country with the largest population of wild tigers, has the responsibility of securing its future. It would be criminal to allow this majestic animal to disappear due to our neglect.

On World Environment day we call upon the Government and the whole country to come together to save our national animal.


Dr Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister of India
South Block, Raisina Hill
New Delhi 110 011
31st May 2007

Honourable Prime Minister,

The tiger is facing its most severe crisis to date. We must act immediately to secure its future. Tomorrow will be too late.

The preliminary findings of the all-India survey, conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and MOEF - despite its weaknesses - broadly confirm our worst fears; India is left with a handful of tiger populations, virtually all of which are found in inviolate areas.

We believe urgent action is required on the following fronts, if the surviving wild tiger populations are to be secured:

1.     Secure the tiger’s critical breeding habitats

The WII/NTCA recently presented information on the central Indian landscape. This data should immediately be put in the public domain so that it may be properly evaluated and available to assist the tiger conservation community to focus future efforts on the critical surviving populations of wild tigers.
This WII/NTCA data shows clearly that tigers and people do not co-exist: they survive only where human disturbance is absent or minimal. We must focus our attention on protecting the few remaining inviolate tracts where tigers are still found - largely Tiger Reserves - and the connectivity between them, before all is lost. The interests of the tiger and associated wildlife in these areas must be paramount.

2.     Make the National Wildlife Crime Bureau operational immediately, headed by an IPS officer

It is essential that the Wildlife Crime Bureau be immediately activated. There is no time to lose – hundreds of tigers and other species have been killed since this idea was first mooted. The Bureau must not just exist on paper; it needs teeth to function and should be headed by a professionally trained, reputed police officer with relevant expertise.

3.      Set up a specialized field force to deal with poaching

Poaching is now in the hands of organized cartels, similar to the drugs and arms trade, and it needs to be tackled by a professionally trained and qualified force. Wildlife and forestry need this specialized force in addition to the Forest Department, in the way that Railways and Industry have their own specialized forces.

4.   Creation of a Ministry for Forests and Wildlife

The recent appointment of two Ministers of State to the MOEF under your leadership provides an excellent opportunity to resolve many of the contradictions and conflicts that exist in the present ministry. We believe that wildlife conservation would greatly benefit if the ministry was bifurcated into two - one dealing exclusively with forests and wildlife issues, and the other with broader environmental issues such as EIA, pollution, etc.

5.    Encourage wildlife research, independent audits and open lines of communication between the MOEF and non-governmental experts

India has a large pool of knowledge outside the government’s management system. The exchange of information and knowledge is essential for creative management. We believe that India’s conservation objectives would be achievable if we had an inclusive and participatory Ministry that recognized and embraced the work that is being done across the country by qualified scientists and independent conservationists, rather than have it impeded by MOEF-NTCA as happens at present.

The recently drafted wildlife research guidelines are restrictive and in effect discourage research activities. These need to be re-drafted. We require your leadership for a completely new initiative to promote and encourage research and to develop an independent monitoring of tigers and other wildlife populations.

6.      Stand firm against any move by China to re-open trade in tiger parts

India has always taken a lead in international forums on wildlife conservation issues. We urge the Indian government to vehemently oppose, as they have in the past, any move by China to lift their 1993 ban on tiger trade at the upcoming Conference of Parties of CITES in the Netherlands from 3 to 15 June 2007.

Leading practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine are also against opening tiger trade: “ we no longer use, need or want tiger bone”. A few tiger farm investors, who would profit from the re-opening, are the ones instigating moves to lift the ban.  Lifting the ban would result in a major surge in demand for tiger parts that will make it impossible to stem the poaching menace in India, and will drive our wild tigers to extinction. Tiger farming is not an option: it can only fan the demand and never satisfy it.

Tiger conservation should not be viewed in isolation of the broader environmental crisis faced by the nation. The forests that harbour tigers also sequester carbon, so keeping these areas inviolate, amounts to a significant step towards limiting global warming, a fact that will stand the nation in good stead in global climate change negotiations.

7.     Take New Political and Administrative Initiatives

i. An emergency meeting of the National Board for Wildlife should be called to review the present situation and to formulate an immediate plan for action.

ii. Following this, a meeting of Chief Ministers/Forest Ministers of Tiger States should be convened to impress upon them the imperative of implementing national wildlife policies and pending reforms.

iii. A new and more focused national Tiger Conservation Action plan needs to be drawn up and implemented to avert the present tiger crisis.  We are deeply concerned that steps taken so far have proved wholly inadequate.

iv. The wildlife wing of the MOEF has been effectively leaderless for over six months. Critical posts such as DG (Forest) and Additional DG (Wildlife) lie vacant. These posts must urgently be filled by competent officials to address the current crisis.

We earnestly request a fresh set of interventions on your part to initiate immediate measures along the lines suggested above, in order to arrest further decline of India’s tiger population.

Your leadership and decisive action to safeguard the future of our national animal - the symbol of India - is urgently required.

Yours faithfully,






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