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Once upon a tiger

 

Belinda Wright & Debbie Banks
Indian Express, Tue May 29 2012

It is time we called for zero-tolerance, not just on poaching, but also on trade in all tiger parts

Why does it always take a tragedy for the system to get rolling? After the fifth tiger this year was found dead on May 18, hacked to pieces, in the forests of Chandrapur district in Maharashtra, the state government sprang into action.

The entire Tadoba landscape is now on red alert. The state forest minister has urged field staff to shoot-on-sight armed poachers who refuse to surrender (although, truth be told, most forest guards have never even seen a tiger poacher), staff vacancies are being filled, government funds have been released to gather secret intelligence, a Special Tiger Protection Force is being put in place (four years after a grant of Rs 50 crore for this purpose was announced in Parliament), and 100 extra patrol vehicles have been ordered. With a bit of luck, the uproar will act as a deterrent to elusive tiger poachers, and the big cats of Chandrapur and Tadoba can relax for the time being.

Let us hope that other states will now follow this lead. The crisis in Maharashtra illustrates how woefully inadequate present protection measures are for wild tigers. Despite Rs 600 crore being allocated by the government in the 2008-12 Five-Year Plan for tiger conservation efforts, the basics — including patrolling, field monitoring, detection, intelligence-led enforcement, investigation, prosecution and, last but not least, accountability — are all in a sorry state. Many believe that the reason for this failure is that the forest department system itself is obsolete.

But on paper at least, the tiger conservation problems in India have largely been solved with endless government reports and guidelines. And the world is impressed. The tragedy in Maharashtra ironically coincided with an international stocktaking meeting in New Delhi on the Global Tiger Recovery Programme (GTRP) and its ambitious goal of doubling the world’s remaining wild tiger population by 2022. Discussions focused on 13 National Tiger Recovery Plans and, with India leading the way, global efforts and cooperation to combat tiger poaching and the illegal trade in tiger parts.

However, the reality is that whatever a tiger range country does to address these problems, its efforts will be undermined by the fact that poaching is driven by consumer demand, usually from outside its borders. For India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan the threat comes from markets in China where tiger skins are used as home décor and taxidermy, and bones and other tiger body parts are used for medicinal purposes. Recently, authorities in central India uncovered news that an “order” had been placed for 25 dead tigers. In Southeast Asian tiger range countries, the market forces come not just from China and the emerging market of Vietnam, but from a local demand for skin, bone and tiger meat. 


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