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Big Cat in Big Trouble


My fifteen-month-old daughter is learning animal names and excitedly points out to tigers in her picture book as I read to her, or to the television as she watches her Baby Einstein CD.

Chances are that that’s the only memory she’ll have of the tiger, because by the time she’s ten, the Indian tiger may well be extinct. The reasons are many – poaching, loss of habitat, illegal trade – to name a few, and the future bleak, since not enough steps are being taken to save the big cat.

From 40,000 tigers in 1947 -the year India won independence from the British – they are probably (there is no official figure yet) down to a dismal figure of 1,800 tigers, at best, according to Belinda Wright, founder of The Wildlife Protection Society of India, who comments that there is more concern about tigers outside India than in it.

But the situation was not always so gloomy. Back in 1973 there was real concern about the tiger and a conservation scheme called ‘Project Tiger’ was launched with the aim of preserving the animal. It was a concerted effort and proved to be one of the most successful wildlife projects of its time. But, that was then, and thirty-four years later the project is in disarray and Indian tiger is facing extinction.


Napping Tiger

Bandhabgarh Forest

Photo by S. Basu Mallick

Conservationists are crying blue murder but their voices, it seems, are falling on deaf ears, and the government is still not taking enough measures to control the problem.

The main culprits are the poachers, who kill the tigers and supply their bones, organs and skins to China, where there’s a huge demand for any part of the majestic animal. A tiger skin, for instance, can fetch a hefty sum of $15,000 in China. The bones and organs, on the other hand are popular, and thus lucrative, for their medicinal qualities, which again has a huge market. Little surprise then, that there is a whole organized network that is involved in the racket, often with the connivance of corrupt forest officials.

But the time for shock and awe is over, something needs to be done immediately. According to the latest report released by ‘The Wildlife Institute of India’ (WII) there has been almost a sixty percent drop in the tiger population since 2002. There are twenty-eight tiger reserves in India, set up with the idea of protecting the species, allowing them to live in a natural habitat. But, barring a few, most of these are in shambles and some even declare that they are not home to any more tigers.

India houses more than half of the world’s tiger population has a strict Wildlife Protection Act (1972), its implementation has been less than perfect. Poachers have continued to targetthe poor animal while the government has watched helplessly.

For the past 14 years there has been a global ban on trade of tiger parts, but off late, China has been pushing to lift that ban. It argues that such a step would actually stop illegal trade and poaching, leading to the conservation not extinction of the tiger. The Chinese claim to have raised about five thousand tigers in captivity, which are sold domestically for their parts.

There are arguments that support this theory claimingthat it is an important step in saving the tiger. Wildlife groups, however, strongly disagree believing that such a step would spell disaster for the already beleaguered tiger.

But irrespective of whether the Indian government supports China in its view or not, the first order of the day is to address issues facing the tiger and come down hard on the offenders.

I hope that by the time my daughter is ten we can take a family trip to a thriving tiger reserve in India, and she can click pictures of her own.

Share  Posted by Gopika Kaul at 7:06 PM | Permalink

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