on a tiger hunt in China
26th August, 20009
NEW DELHI - Indian Minister for Environment
and Forests Jairam Ramesh - the new United Progressive Alliance (UPA)
government's first minister to visit China - is on a four-day trip to
Beijing this week for bilateral talks on an array of ecological issues.
Apart from seeking increased bilateral cooperation on climate
change, the issue that has dominated the minister's unfolding agenda is
a vital conservation problem that has bothered India for years -
China-led tiger poaching in India.
The poaching - directly
linked to international trade through Nepal and Myanmar into China -
has over the years led to an alarming plummet in the population of the
Royal Bengal tiger, India's national animal.
domestic trade in tiger and leopard parts is illegal in China. But
black-market businesses abound to cater to China's ever-growing demand
for tiger parts to use in libido-enhancing and aphrodisiacal drugs.
This demand fuels the smuggling of expensive tiger parts - skin, claws,
teeth, penises and whiskers - out of India via neighboring countries
and into China.
China also maintains scores of controversial
tiger farms that are used to harvest the big cats' body parts. Experts
estimate that some 4,000 cats are bred on these farms for use in
traditional Chinese medicine in the wake of China's spiraling
Ramesh has made a special request to China
for an "active liaison" with Nepal to control tiger trafficking along
the Indian border. He has also pushed for a phasing-out of tiger farms
and the destruction of stockpiles of tiger parts. In recent months,
there has been increasing speculation that China may lift its ban on
trade in tiger parts imposed in 1993. This move, experts believe, could
prove devastating for tiger conservation efforts in India.
need to intensify efforts with the Chinese so that international tiger
trade networks are smashed," Ramesh, 55, told the Hindustan Times.
"Poaching in India is directly linked to international trade into
The minister asked China to "assure increased
enforcement to curb the tiger/leopard skin and bone trade considering
it is the Year of the Tiger in 2010". He has also sought an assurance
from his Chinese counterpart - Minister for Environment Protection Zhou
Shengxian - that China will sensitize its consumers to the problem and
discourage trade in tiger parts.
In the past, India has
expressed uneasiness about China's appetite for tiger parts smuggled
out of India. Still, tiger poaching continues to thrive along the
Indo-Chinese border, with the Chinese authorities allegedly turning a
blind eye to the problem. Tiger poaching and the smuggling of tiger
skins is now the second-most common crime along the Indo-China border
after the illicit trade of narcotics.
commerce is having a catastrophic effect on India's endangered national
animal. According to the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI),
only about 1,300 tigers remain in the wild in India, down from about
15,000 two decades ago. Other Asian countries have tiger populations,
but the count is negligible when compared to India.
government's attempt to create 37 tiger reserves - spread across 19
states - has failed to provide a safe haven from poaching. The WPSI
estimates that India has lost 66 tigers in 2009, with as many 23 shot
Conservation of India's remaining tigers is a top
priority for the UPA government. With the urging of conservationists
and activists, the government has doubled the budgetary allocation for
Project Tiger - India's flagship tiger conservation program launched in
1973 under the aegis of former prime minister Indira Gandhi.
Ramesh took charge of the Environment Ministry a few months ago, he
took steps to strengthen legislation to deter poaching and other
illegal activities in forest reserves. He also created the National
Green Tribunal, a court that will hear all cases relating to the
environment and forests. Ramesh has claimed he intends to bolster the
Wildlife Protection Act and the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau as well.
a bid to augment the country's tiger population, state governments are
adopting measures to aid breeding. This year, at the Sariska Tiger
Reserve, three tigers - a male and two females - were relocated from
Ranthambore Tiger Reserve to breed.
According to Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh, "India's growth is increasingly taking place
at the cost of its environment." The premier's warning comes in the
wake of the just-released State of the Environment Report which pointed
out that at least 45% of India's land is environmentally "degraded".
Air pollution is rising, the report claims, and India's flora and fauna
Manmohan has emphasized that to contain
further decline of India's natural resources, stringent regulation and
incentives are required along with initiatives to establish a balance
between growth and the environment.
Ramesh has maintained that
New Delhi considers Beijing an "important ally" in the battle against
vital ecological issues. The minister's current visit to China
reinforces India's desire to push the agenda forward.
Lal is a widely published writer/commentator who contributes to many
reputed national and international print and Internet publications.