May 23 2012
Associated Press= NEW DELHI (AP) -- A
state in western India 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 and other wildlife.
The government in Maharashtra
says injuring or killing suspected poachers will no longer be considered a
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.
against poachers may be only bluster. No tiger poachers have ever been shot
in Maharashtra before, though cases of shooting illegal loggers and
fishermen have led to charges against forest guards, according to the
state's chief wildlife warden, S.W.H. Naqvi.
But the threat could act
as a significant deterrent to wildlife criminals, conservationists said. A
similar measure allowing guards to fire on poachers in Assam has helped the
northeast state's population of endangered one-horned rhinos recover.
"These poachers have lost all fear. They just go in and poach what they
want because they know the risks are low," said Divyabhanusinh Chavda, who
heads the World Wildlife Fund in India and is a key member of the National
Wildlife Board, which advises the prime minister. In many of India's
reserves, guards are armed with little more than sticks.
intense international scrutiny over its tiger conservation, as the country
holds half of the world's estimated 3,200 tigers in dozens of wildlife
reserves set up since the 1970s, when hunting was banned.
poaching remains a stubborn and serious threat, with tiger parts in
particular fetching high prices on the black market thanks to demand driven
by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners.
According to the
Wildlife Protection Society of India, 14 tigers have been killed by poachers
in India so far this year -- one more than in all of 2011. The tiger is
considered endangered, with its habitat range shrinking more than 50 percent
in the last quarter-century while its numbers declined 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
Naqvi said encounters between Maharashtra's forest guards and
poachers were rare, explaining that poachers generally hunt the secretive
and nocturnal big cats at night. He said the state's offer to pay informers
from a new fund worth about 5 million rupees ($90,000) would likely be more
effective. "We get very few tips, so this will really help," he said.
But conservationists said the fact that poachers were rarely seen had
more to do with the low ranger numbers, and that increasing patrols around
the clock would help because poachers also target the cats when they visit
artificial water holes during the daytime.
There are dozens of other
animals 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
A recent study on hunting in India noted 114 species of
mammals alone were being actively hunted across the country, with dozens of
birds and reptiles also under attack.
"There has been an onslaught
going on in India," said William Laurance, a conservation biologist at James
Cook University in Australia, and one of three authors of the study, which
was published in Biological Conservation journal in April. "It's a serious
threat to wildlife, along with habitat encroachment and forest degradation.
A lot of species are clinging to survival in remote areas."
unclear whether Maharashtra's example in making poachers the target will be
followed by other states, though tiger poaching has also been a major
challenge for Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in recent years. The hunting of
male elephants for their tusks has skewed the sex ratio, and there are now
some 100 female elephants for every one male in the south.
to the April study, some of the most rampant hunting is happening in the
eastern Himalayas, where high numbers of army troops are deployed and some
will hunt for sport, and in the northeast near the porous border with China
and Myanmar, where hunting is a way of life and sometimes an economic
necessity for many tribal communities.
"The remarkable thing in India
is that there is still anything alive at all with 1.2 billion people,"
Laurance said. "As populations grow, an increase in hunting pressure is a
classic thing that happens."
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