India Says It Busts Major Tiger Poaching Ring
JAIPUR, India Indian police have busted a tiger poaching ring responsible for killing at least 10 animals in one of its premier wildlife parks, an officer said on Tuesday.
Four poachers living in the forests surrounding the Ranthambhore reserve had confessed to killing 10 tigers and a leopard, police superintendent Alok Vasisth said.
"More arrests will be made and will include those who received these tigers and those who smuggled them," he said.
Local media said the poachers had confessed to killing up to 22 tigers in Ranthambhore, which is in the desert state of Rajasthan just a few hours' drive from New Delhi.
Police have also recovered turtle shells and animal skins.
But wildlife activists say more must be done after a rapid, unexpected fall in the tiger population was discovered this year.
"The authorities are in a complete state of denial about the problem and large scale tiger poaching has not been addressed," said Belinda Wright, executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India.
In March, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered a police investigation into revelations that the number of tigers in India had plunged and that some major parks under the Project Tiger conservation programme might have none left at all.
He also ordered the creation of a special wildlife "flying squad" to combat poaching. Singh has taken a personal interest in fighting the decline in numbers and visited Ranthambhore in May.
Before the latest arrests, one wildlife group has estimated at least 18 of the reserve's 47 tigers had disappeared in a year.
The government says poachers killed at least 114 tigers across India between 1999 and 2003, although some conservationists put the figure much higher. Just 59 died of natural causes during the same period.
Trade in dead tigers is illegal but a single animal can fetch up to $50,000 in the international black market and arrests and convictions are rare. Poorly paid forest rangers are suspected of helping poachers or at least turning a blind eye.
Organs, teeth, bones and penises fetch high prices in the black market, where they are used in Chinese medicine.