Skins of 22 tigers seized across India last month
NEW DELHI, Jan 21: A leading tiger conservationist today said the skins and parts of at least 22 tigers had been seized across India in the past month and called for tough anti-poaching laws to stem the slaughter.
Belinda Wright, founder of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, told AFP that the seizures were the tip of the iceberg and indicated the growing threat faced by the Indian tiger.
"The past few weeks have been a nightmare," Wright, a British national based in India, said. "Between December 7 and January 12, the skins and parts of at least 22 tigers have been seized by the authorities."
Wright said three tiger and 50 leopard skins were seized by officials on December 18 in the northern industrial town of Ghaziabad and two tiger skins recovered during separate raids elsewhere in northern India.
"Four tiger skins and the bones of at least 15 other tigers were seized on January 12 in the town of Khaga," in northern India, in addition to "18,000 leopard claws representing a staggering 900 dead leopards," Wright said.
Wright urged Indians to appeal to Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani to set up a special wing to try wildlife offences to save the Indian tiger.
She said current laws - which stipulate seven years imprisonment for poaching - were tough enough but the problem lay in poor enforcement.
"There have only been three convictions in India since 1947," she said, referring to the year the country gained independence from British colonial rule.
"There were about 40,000 tigers here at the turn of the century but now there are about 3,750 according to the government's estimates. I would say we would be lucky to have 2,500.
"About 60 per cent of the so-called official population live outside the protected network of reserve forests and are the most at risk. No tiger in the world is as vulnerable and accessible as the Indian tiger."
Wright said the poaching was fuelled by demand from Chinese communities around the world due to their belief in the medicinal and rejuvenative qualities of tiger parts.
"There is almost no domestic market in India apart from a handful of people who want to flaunt tiger skins in their drawing rooms," she said. "Nearly all of it is smuggled through Nepal to China where the skins are processed.
"The skins and tiger are then sent to places where there is a large Chinese diaspora like Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, the United Kingdom and America. There is also a market in Japan."
There are 362 wild tigers in Bangladesh, 3,750 in India, 240 in Bhutan, 231 in western Myanmar and some 200 in Vietnam, according to the Global Tiger Forum.
The worldwide tiger population is estimated at between 5,000 and 7,500, down from 8,500 in the early 1990s and 100,000 a century ago.