There’s bad news for lovers of the majestic tiger, India’s national animal: Poachers are staying ahead of efforts to save the big cats.
An analysis of 40 years of data shows that poachers, who kill the tiger for its skin and body parts, are moving to less-protected tiger habitats in south and central India, using trains to smuggle their booty out.
This could explain why 2013 was a bad year for tiger protection, with 43 killings, and why officials say the period since 2009 has been worrying. Things had been going fairly well until then; in fact, tiger poaching incidents have still more than halved in the 2004-2013 decade from the previous one, to 326 killings.
The study, led by independent wildlife scientist Koustubh Sharma and published in an international journal recently, found that new wildlife trade centres have emerged in southern Indian cities of Coimbatore, Chikmagalur, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Idukki and Mysore. Poaching incidents fell in northern India between 2005-2012 and increased in the central and southern states, it said.
This is a bitter blow for the protection effort, in which hundreds of crores of Rupees were invested after the big cats vanished from Sariska in Rajasthan and Panna in Madhya Pradesh.
Tiger reserves in Kerala, Karnataka and southern Maharashtra, which were not on radar of wildlife syndicates till 1996, started reporting poaching incidents in the last decade. Poachers may have been drawn by less scrutiny at these reserves and reports of a high tiger population.
“We have asked all state governments to set up tiger protection force in their states. We would be providing adequate funding for protecting tigers,” environment minister Prakash Javadekar said on Friday, admitting that the poaching threat was still very real.
Most of these 73 hotspots had an interesting connection — they are on the Indian Railways network.
“Districts closer to rail routes had a lesser probability of discontinuation of tiger crime as opposed those further away,” the study said.
Poaching and hunting have wiped out more than 90% of the tigers across India in the last century or so with just 1,706 tigers remaining in 47 tiger reserves.