March 5, 2008

New Efforts to Protect Endangered Tigers

In an effort to save endangered tigers, India announced on Friday that it intends to spend $13 million to "raise, arm and deploy" a Tiger Protection Force.

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram's announcement comes just weeks after a $153 million program was proposed to create new tiger reserves.

India's Tiger Project said that recent calculations found that the wild tiger population has dropped from 3,600 five years ago to about 1,411.

"The number 1,411 should ring the alarm bells," Chidambaram told Parliament during his budget presentation for 2008-2009. "The tiger is under grave threat."

The budget is expected to be approved by Parliament later this month without opposition.

"They are finally addressing a very important problem - poaching," Belinda Wright, director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, told Associated Press. "I would imagine that much of the existing system would be improved by the injection of the funds."

Some 250 villages, or an estimated 200,000 people, will be relocated under the plan. The government has promised each relocated family about $25,600.

Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, Wildlife photographer Sirajul Hossein is blaming the sedative used on by the Sundarbans Tiger Project as the reason for two recent tiger deaths.

"People should be careful of any kind of invasive method, such as injecting the tiger with chemicals," Hossein told BBC News. "We just don't know what the affect of Telazol is on the tigers."

The Sundarbans Tiger Project, which monitors and protects the 300-500 tigers of Bangladesh's Sundarbans mangrove forest claimed that the tigers deaths were due to natural causes. The project uses Telazol as a way to sedate the tigers in order to place radio-collars on the cat.

Adam Barlow of the Sundarbans Tiger Project, also responded to Hossein's claims by stating that Telazol appears to be safe.

"Telazol has been used on wild tigers in Nepal, Thailand and now Bangladesh. No adverse effects from the drug's metabolism were observed," he said.

"There is little, or possibly no, evidence available that categorically proves Telazol to be harmful to tigers."

A spokesman for Fort Dodge, the company which makes Telazol, said it had not performed any safety studies on its use on tigers, and does not market or recommend Telazol for this purpose.

"Telazol is a veterinary prescription-only anaesthetic licensed in numerous countries exclusively for use in domestic dogs and cats," Tom Lenz, the vice-president of Fort Dodge's Animal Health department said.

"Telazol has been manufactured and sold for 25 years, during which time the product has maintained an excellent safety record," he said.

In addition, the US-based World Conservation Society reported that it has used Telazol on at least 60 tigers without noticing any side effects.

"With trained professionals, the risk of capture and immobilization is low, although it will never be zero," director Dale Miquelle said. "Based on our 16-year project in Russia, we believe the information gained is worth the risk."