India Sacks Officials after Tigers Go Missing
JAIPUR, India Authorities in India's desert state of Rajasthan have suspended eight forest officials after more than two dozen tigers vanished from a wildlife sanctuary in less than 2 years, a state minister said on Saturday.
Concerned over the fast dwindling tiger population, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last month ordered a police investigation and formed a new taskforce to stem the rapid fall in the number of the endangered species.
"We have suspended the chief wildlife warden and seven other forest department employees posted in Sariska," L. N. Dave, minister for forest and environment in Rajasthan, told Reuters.
The officials were suspended after an inquiry found them guilty of negligence of duty, he said.
Wildlife activists say tigers may have been wiped out entirely in the Sariska sanctuary -- where the Project Tiger conservation programme began in 1973 and where there were as many as 16-18 big cats a year ago.
They fear the story may be the same in sanctuaries across India, which has almost half the world's surviving tigers.
Dave said though 25-28 tigers were spotted during a census in Sariska in 2003 but since then no tigers have been spotted in the sanctuary.
Killing of tigers, although banned in India, has been going on under cover as a single one can fetch up to $50,000 on the international market.
A century ago, there were an estimated 40,000 tigers in India. Now, some wildlife experts say there are barely 2,000 and the official government census about 3,700.
Exact figures are almost impossible because of the shy nature of the big cats.