August 5, 2005

Indian task force says tigers under siege

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - An Indian task force said on Friday
that the country's tigers were under siege from poachers and
people living in protected reserves, and called for thousands
of villagers to be relocated to save the endangered big cat.

There was national shock after reports in March that the
population of 16-18 tigers at a leading sanctuary in western
India could be wiped out by poachers within a year, and that
the risks were similar at other reserves.

Responding to the outcry, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set
up the tiger task force, headed by well-known environmentalist
Sunita Narain who submitted the body's report to him on Friday.

"The tiger is under attack from poachers, miners and other
exploitative activity," the report said. "Worse, it is also
under siege from people who co-inhabit its land. The challenge
is to ensure that the siege is lifted."

The task force called for relocation of thousands of people
living in 250 villages located inside India's 28 tiger

"What is suggested is a time-bound program to identify
those villages which must be relocated because they are located
in crucial tiger habitats," Narain said in the report.

She added that there were another 1,250 villages in
non-core areas of the reserves and it would be impossible to
relocate the people living in those hamlets.

"In this case, the country has no choice but to make peace
with the communities that share the tiger's home," Narain said,
calling for their involvement in forest reserve tourism. "If
not, we will lose the war of conservation, tiger by tiger."


India's tiger population has fallen to about 3,700 from
roughly 40,000 a century ago, mainly due to rampant poaching.

But conservationists suspect the number could be less than

A spokesman for Prime Minister Singh said the head of the
government had agreed to create a federal wildlife crime
bureau, as suggested by the five-member task force.

The task force said India would have to work with China to
stop huge illegal trade in tiger body parts. Tiger organs,
teeth, bones and penises are used in traditional Chinese

The task force report also slammed a "faulty and fudged
system" to count tigers at Sariska that showed a growth in the
big cat population while tigers were in reality disappearing.

India's conviction rate of those charged with poaching of
endangered animals is less than five percent, with many accused
of poaching getting off due to lack of evidence.

In May, the government said poachers had killed at least
114 tigers between 1999 and 2003, while just 59 of the big cats
had died of natural causes during the same period.

(Additional reporting by Nigam Prusty)