Indian state OKs shooting tiger poachers on sight
A Bengal tiger cools off in a small pond of water at Van Vihar National Park in Bhopal, June 2, 2004. (AP / Prakash Hatvalne)
Published Wednesday, May 23, 2012 6:58AM EDT
NEW DELHI - A western Indian state has declared war on animal poaching by sanctioning its forest guards to shoot hunters on sight in an effort to curb rampant attacks against tigers, elephants and other wildlife.
The government in Maharashtra says injuring or killing suspected poachers will no longer be considered a crime.
Forest guards should not be "booked for human rights violations when they have taken action against poachers," Maharashtra Forest Minister Patangrao Kadam said Tuesday. The state also will send more rangers and jeeps into the forest, and will offer secret payments to informers who give tips about poachers and animal smugglers, he said.
India holds about half of the world's estimated 3,200 tigers in dozens of wildlife reserves set up since the 1970s. But illegal poaching remains a serious threat, with tiger parts sought in traditional Chinese medicine fetching high prices on the black market.
According to the Wildlife Protection Society of India, 14 tigers have been killed by poachers in India so far this year -- one more than for all of 2011. The tiger is considered endangered, with its habitat range shrinking more than 50 per cent in the last quarter-century and its numbers declining rapidly from the 5,000-7,000 estimated in the 1990s, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Eight of this year's tiger poaching deaths in India occurred in Maharashtra, including one whose body was found last week chopped into pieces with its head and paws missing in Tadoba Tiger Reserve. Forest officials have also found traps in the reserve, where about 40 tigers live.
Tiger parts used in traditional Chinese medicine are prized on the black market, but dozens of other animals are also targeted by hunters across India, including one-horned rhinos and male elephants prized for their tusks, and other big cats like leopards hunted or poisoned by villagers afraid of attacks on their homes or livestock.
Encounters are rare, however, between guards and poachers who generally hunt the secretive and nocturnal big cats at night, according to Maharashtra's chief wildlife warden, S.W.H. Naqvi.
"We hardly ever come face-to-face with poachers," he said Wednesday, predicting few instances where guards might fire at suspects.
Instead, he predicted that the state's offer to pay informers from a new government fund worth about $90,000 would be more effective in curbing wildlife crime. "We get very few tips, so this will really help," Naqvi said.