From: Krittivas Mukherjee, Reuters
Published May 18, 2006 12:00 AM

India Eyes Chinese Help to Protect Tigers

MUMBAI — Chinese help is critical to protect India's tiger population and Beijing needs to curb the market for big cat skins and body parts, a leading Indian conservation official said on Wednesday.


India, home to the world's largest tiger population, had about 40,000 of the animals a century ago.


Now, government figures say about 3,700 survive, although some conservationists say the number could be less than 2,000, largely due to rampant poaching to feed a huge demand for tiger skins and parts in China and Tibet.


India and China signed an agreement in 1995 to help conserve the tiger but experts say it has been of little help.


Next week, a team of Chinese officials is visiting India for talks to renew efforts under the pact, said Rajesh Gopal, the head of India's state-run conservation agency, Project Tiger.


The Chinese team will also visit a tiger park to study conservation efforts.


"We have been successful in conserving tigers, but with their help we will be able to conserve in a better manner," Gopal told Reuters in a telephone interview from New Delhi.


"China's help is vital. There is no market for tiger parts in India. But across the border there is a great demand. They can help by curbing that market."


Gopal's comments came a day after the Indian Environment and Forests ministry said a tiger census, which was due to be completed in July, would take at least another year to finish.


Tiger parts such as bones and penises are used in traditional Chinese medicine and a single tiger can fetch up to $50,000 in the international market.


TOUGHER LAW


The alarming fall in the number of tigers in India -- in one reserve a whole population of 16-18 tigers disappeared in a year -- triggered national concern last year, prompting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to order a police investigation and set up a special panel to stop the decline.


Conservationists say there has been a sharp rise in the poaching of tigers and leopards in India in recent years to feed an explosion of demand from Tibet.


An ancient tradition of wearing animal furs seemed to have been revived in Tibet in recent years, partly perhaps as a result of greater disposable income, they say.


Gopal said New Delhi was very concerned by the reports and had urged the Chinese government to take action.


The alarm also led to the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader who lives in exile in India, making an emotional appeal to outlaw the trade in animal skins, provoking an extraordinary reaction in his homeland.


Reports from Tibet said people across the Himalayan region burned wild animal furs in response to his appeal.


"This visit will be crucial. We will see what bilaterals can be discussed and agreed (to save tigers)," Gopal said.


He said the falling tiger population had also prompted India to beef up existing laws in a country where the conviction rate for killing endangered species is less than five percent, with most offenders getting away for lack of evidence.


A separate chapter on tiger conservation is being added to the Wildlife Protection Act to provide statutory backing to advisories from Project Tiger. So far, such advisories were mostly ignored by state forest officials.


"The amendments would make implementation more effective," Gopal said, adding that it would impose harsher penalties for killing endangered animals.


Source: Reuters


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