Focus on India as world meets to save tiger

Experts here said that despite positive steps, India is struggling to deal with poaching, with poor villagers willing to kill and sell tigers for just USD 100 and the rangers charged with protecting the animals under-paid and poorly equipped.

"Poaching is the major threat, number two is habitat destruction," said Satya Prakash Yadav, an official with India's Environment Ministry taking part in the summit of 13 nations in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg.

India is home to 1,411 tigers of the estimated 3,200 still living in the wild but also to 54 per cent of poaching and trafficking cases. According to a recent report by the Traffic International non-governmental organisation, more than 1,000 tigers have been killed in the last decade in Asia. "People living around the tiger reserves are always poor and if you come offering them a big price for the tigers they will take it," said Sejal Worah, the director of the World Wildlife Fund's Indian branch.

"The poacher gets only USD 100 but the price of all the parts could be a 100 or 200 times more than that." Much of the poaching is fuelled by demand for tiger parts in Thailand, where there are far fewer of the wild cats, she said. Good laws are in place to protect tigers in India, but enforcement has been lax, said Vivek Menon, the director for Southeast Asia for the International Fund for Animal Protection (IFAW), which has trained more than 7,000 rangers in India, a third of the country's anti-poaching force.

"We have seven years in prison, not fines, if you kill a tiger....What more do you want? India has very good laws. But the problem is the implementation in such a big country," he said. "For many years, nobody went to jail. Before, the judiciary never convicted. That has changed in the last five-six years and this is a good step."

India's federal government launched a tiger protection programme in 2007 with several million dollars allocated to urgent measures to cut down on poaching. Among other efforts, the government recently began hiring retired soldiers to work on tiger reserves. But Worah said the rangers are working in difficult conditions, hampering their efforts.
India is expected to commit during the summit to creating protected zones for tigers free of infrastructure, roads and people -- a move that is likely to engender controversy.

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