November 22, 2005

India busts major tiger poaching ring

By Heath Kelly

JAIPUR, India (Reuters) - Indian police have busted a tiger
poaching ring responsible for killing at least 10 animals in
one of its premier wildlife parks, an officer said on Tuesday.

Four poachers living in the forests surrounding the
Ranthambhore reserve had confessed to killing 10 tigers and a
leopard, police superintendent Alok Vasisth said.

"More arrests will be made and will include those who
received these tigers and those who smuggled them," he said.

Local media said the poachers had confessed to killing up
to 22 tigers in Ranthambhore, which is in the desert state of
Rajasthan just a few hours' drive from New Delhi.

Police have also recovered turtle shells and animal skins.

But wildlife activists say more must be done after a rapid,
unexpected fall in the tiger population was discovered this

"The authorities are in a complete state of denial about
the problem and large scale tiger poaching has not been
addressed," said Belinda Wright, executive director of the
Wildlife Protection Society of India.

In March, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered a police
investigation into revelations that the number of tigers in
India had plunged and that some major parks under the Project
Tiger conservation program might have none left at all.

He also ordered the creation of a special wildlife "flying
squad" to combat poaching. Singh has taken a personal interest
in fighting the decline in numbers and visited Ranthambhore in

Before the latest arrests, one wildlife group has estimated
at least 18 of the reserve's 47 tigers had disappeared in a

The government says poachers killed at least 114 tigers
across India between 1999 and 2003, although some
conservationists put the figure much higher. Just 59 died of
natural causes during the same period.

Trade in dead tigers is illegal but a single animal can
fetch up to $50,000 in the international black market and
arrests and convictions are rare. Poorly paid forest rangers
are suspected of helping poachers or at least turning a blind

Organs, teeth, bones and penises fetch high prices in the
black market, where they are used in Chinese medicine.