India Tiger Body Calls for Tough Anti-Poaching Steps
NEW DELHI India's new tiger task force, set up to review the country's dwindling big cat population, called on Thursday for tougher measures to control poaching of the national animal.
There has been an uproar in India after reports in March that the entire tiger population at a leading sanctuary in western India may have been wiped out by poachers, and the case might be the same in reserves across the country.
"All agree that this reporting is the tip of the iceberg," the tiger task force said, after two days of talks with tiger experts from around the world, who slammed the current efforts of law enforcement agencies to stop poaching.
"This highly skilled and organised international crime needs a highly coordinated and skilled response to combat it," the task force said in a statement.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set up the task force in April after reports of the disappearance of tigers in the Sariska sanctuary in Rajasthan state. There were an estimated 16-18 tigers a year ago in Sariska.
Earlier this week, the environment ministry revealed at least 114 tigers had been killed from 1999-2003 and that 238 seizures of tiger parts such as bones, skin, teeth and nails had been made in the same period.
"What is needed urgently is to set up a multi-disciplinary and professional task force for wildlife law enforcement, which will be charged to follow up the investigations across borders and in major city markets of the country," the task force said.
Experts called for a federal agency to save the tiger, whose numbers have fallen to about 3,700 from roughly 40,000 a century ago. But conservationists say the number may be less than 2,000.
Trade in dead tigers is illegal but poachers still operate with impunity because a single animal can fetch up to $50,000 in the international market.
Organs, teeth, bones and penises fetch high prices in the black market, where they are used in Chinese medicine.
Experts say the conviction rate of those charged with poaching of endangered animals in India is less than five percent.
"There is clear urgency for a new and empowered agency. It is essential in order to save the tiger," Sunita Narain, an environmentalist who heads the task force to review management of tiger reserves, told Reuters.
"It should have been done yesterday and not tomorrow."
In a move to douse public anger, Singh heads for the Ranthambhore tiger reserve, also in Rajasthan, on Monday to talk to officials on how to prevent poaching.