December 30, 2008

Protestors Fight Tiger Reserve In India

In southern India, over 15,000 people protested against the extension of a new tiger reserve Tuesday, despite official assurances that they will not lose their homes to the sanctuary.

All parties representatives in Tamil Nadu state, including the state's ruling party, took part in the protest, which is the third since November against the extension of the Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary, police said.

Mudumalai has been declared by the state government to be a tiger reserve earlier this year. This is part of a federal government initiative, called "Project Tiger," to boost the country's dwindling number of big cats.

About 40,000 tigers in India were there a century ago.  A government census report says the tiger population has fallen to 1,411, down from 3,642 in 2002, largely due to dwindling habitat and poaching.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in 2006 that thousands of poor villagers inside India's tiger reserves would have to be relocated to protect the endangered animals from poachers and smugglers.  Experts have put the number at about 300,000.

The poverty of forest villagers is exploited by poachers and smugglers trying to keep them on their side.  Authorities tried educating the villagers, handing out monetary incentives and drafting them as informants.

Rajeev Srivastava, a field director for Project Tiger, said, Tuesdays demonstrators were not against the declaration of a 125 sq mile core area but against the creation of a buffer zone.

There has been a $20,800 payout given to around 350 families living in the core area, but those in the buffer areas fear they will be evicted, Srivastava said.

"We have no intention to dislodge anyone from the buffer zone. In fact, people in this zone will be involved in the project as trackers and guides for ecotourists to enhance their means of livelihood."

The Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary is part of the larger Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve on a mountain range that spans three Indian states.

According to Srivastava, there are 48 tigers in the Nilgiri Reserve across which the tigers are free to roam.


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