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Taking the tiger by the tail

Sanctuary editor Bittu Sahgal talks to Kumkum Dasgupta before the international meet on the trade of endangered species, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Conference of Parties, starts on June 3 in The Hague.

india Updated: Jun 07, 2012 16:41 IST
Hindustan Times

India should oppose tiger farms and create natural habitats with ample biodiversity for the animal.

The international meet on the trade of endangered species, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Conference of Parties, starts on June 3 in The Hague. Sanctuary editor Bittu Sahgal, who will be speaking on behalf of the coalition of 35 international NGOs on how it is imperative to stop China from legalising 'tiger farms' and the future of big cats in India.

The critical issues to be discussed at the 14th CITES conference...

As always, it is going to be a battle between those who wish to commercialise wildlife and those who believe that species such as tigers, whales and elephants are so critically poised that anything less than total protection will tip them over the abyss of extinction. Enforcement is a major theme at this conference that will be looking for evidence of intelligence-led enforcement being used to combat wildlife crime, including in India and China where individuals controlling illegal trade in tiger parts and derivatives continue to operate. Ensuring China makes its tiger trade ban permanent, increases investment in enforcement, consolidates and destroys stockpiles of tiger bone and phases out tiger farms is going to be the greatest challenge of them all.

The coalition's stand on tiger trade/wildlife management...

My primary purpose is to ensure that the Indian government does not through a stroke of temporary insanity endorse the lethal Chinese proposal to slaughter tigers for money and also ensure that fence-sitting nations are aware that the eyes of the world are upon them. There are a slew of other issues, but this is my main objective and that of over 35 NGOs who oppose China.

China has indicated that it intends to open its trade in farmed tigers: what India can do...

On the eve of his retirement as the secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Prodipto Ghosh made an astounding statement virtually expressing his personal approval of the Chinese proposal to kill farm-grown tigers. Such officers embarrass India, which has a long history and culture of sensible conservation policy. We have got a force of 1 million 'Kids for Tigers' who will be protesting such illogical steps.

Some say that the ban on tiger trade has not worked and therefore it is time to try a new approach...

The ban on tiger trade has worked. That is why we still have tigers around though people had predicted they would die out before 2000. The problem is that in the past decade the political support for protection of tigers and their forest home has withered. In the crossfire between poaching and habitat loss, one of the most charismatic animals in the world is being lost. Tigers need protection and space. Giving them space (forests) will ensure India's water security as over 300 rivers originate from tiger forests.

Farmed tigers will one day be placed into the wild, ensuring survival of wild tigers: is this a feasible idea?

It is not feasible by any measure. Tiger experts know this. Bureaucrats and tiger farmers are putting such smokescreens out so they can somehow cash in on the demand for tiger parts. If we want tigers to live, we need to give them exclusive areas in which to survive. Here, a myriad plants and animals -- biodiversity -- will also survive. And these forests, which sequester carbon, will help us counter climate change.

The latest tiger numbers released by Wildlife Institute of India is dismal. What is the future of big cats in India?

The Wildlife Institute of India confirmed what we already knew. A decade ago we had warned that protection standards were falling and that tigers were being lost. I still remember when - in the early 1990s - the then Director of Project Tiger, Arin Ghosh misled Parliament by denying tiger deaths, even as other forest officers officially recorded a large number of dead tigers. The Project Tiger Directorate was still in denial mode as recently as six months ago. Today the WII has made it impossible for such falsehoods to be propped up any longer.

A separate ministry for wildlife...

We must bifurcate the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The Prime Minister ordered it, but his instructions were ignored. The PMO should find out why and take the responsible officers to task because their dereliction of duty has resulted in the death of hundreds of tigers.

There is a plan to relocate tigers in Sariska. Good idea?

Yes, provided the Rajasthan Government first takes action to relocate the villages from inside the park that have already indicated their willingness to shift, by moving a state highway out of the park and by qualitatively enhancing field protection.

Can tigers and humans coexist?

Can a cat and mouse coexist?

(As told to Kumkum Dasgupta)

First Published: Jun 03, 2007 00:20 IST