India, a land of tigers... till when?

The greatest disaster threatens to engulf the wild cats in several Indian states.
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Updated on Mar 23, 2007 06:04 PM IST
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None | BySajjan Singh Thakur, New Delhi

India, a land of tigers. But, for how long? In fact, the greatest disaster that threatens to engulf the wild cats in several Indian states is only waiting to happen.

If authorities have turned a Nelson's eye to a sustained, nefarious and rampant trading in an animal that is still the symbol of India's pristine glory and natural heritage, the lack of stringent rules and measures to stop it have only boosted the morale of those who revel in wearing tiger skins on their sleeves.

No wonder, if official figures put the rapidly dwindling tigers at 3000, in numbers, at present, "India will be blessed if it can show even 2000," claims Belinda Wright, winner of Carl Zeiss Wildlife Conservation Award 2005 and founder and executive director of Wildlife Protection Society of India (estd 1994).

A woman of many parts - wildlife photographer, film maker, author and conservationist, all rolled into one - Wright, while speaking exclusively to the HindustanTimes.com on Thursday after receiving the award, minced no words while castigating the Sariska, Panna and Ranthambore tiger reserves' officials. She held that their complicity is largely responsible for killing and trafficking of 'the most divine animal' to 'mostly China' through Nepalese routes.

Born in Kolkata in 1953, Wright, who has spent her entire life working with India's wildlife, has pioneered investigations into the illegal trade and has helped expose trading in tigers and other wildlife parts. The winner of two Emmy Awards and 14 other international awards for her 1984 National Geographic film Land of the Tiger, Wright and her colleagues have been instrumental in the arrest of scores of wildlife criminals and in the development of new conservation strategies.

The co-author of five books also, at first glance Wright would appear almost childlike with her eyes full of undiluted joy. But a closer look would reveal the irony in her eyes, especially at the mention of an animal which is symbolised by grace, beauty and power, but being slaughtered fast.

And she has some immediate remedies on offer: a. transparency b. audit and c. accountability. "All this, no doubt, will have to be imparted only when our rules and regulation are strictly adhered to," says a beaming Belinda, for whom the award was more a testimony to her indefatigable zeal and the recognition of her undying efforts than a valued possession.

Belinda, whose mission to bind both the forces -- 'those outside the system and those inside it' -- has kept her bound to her life-long passion, sounds a warning bell, "It's time, poaching of tigers is stopped. It's time to act. If we hedge now, these tigers will soon become a part of folklore and our textbooks."

Full of praise for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh having assured her to take suitable action to stop tiger trade, Belinda expressed optimism, saying, it was not for nothing that corporate world, 'for which tigers are India's brand image', children's signature, sustained media campaigns and activists have alerted the ministry concerned and the authorities 'to stop it now'.

The gala function held at India Habitat Centre saw the CEO of Carl Zeiss, the technology leader in optics, giving away Carl Zeiss Roll of Honour 2005 to Param Jit Singh (IFS, conservator of Forests, Yamuna Circle, Dehradun), Pankaj Sharma (ranger, Assam Forest Dept), Mann Barua (naturalist) and Ritwick Dutta (SC lawyer), besides honouring Wright.

Well-known tiger expert Valmik Thapar was the host for the evening, which also saw the screening of a 50-minute film, Ultimate Guide to Tigers, by Guy Pearce.

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