The Distribution of Tiger Habitats in India
In 1900 India's population of Royal Bengal Tigers was estimated to be as high as 40,000. By 1972 it had dwindled to 1,800 thanks to human population pressures, indiscriminate industries and over hunting begun by the ruling British and continued after their departure by the oriental medicine and exotic skin traders.
The Indian government under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, working with conservationists, launched Project Tiger, in an attempt to save India's wild tiger. By the early 1990's the Bengal Tiger population had increased to 4,200. Unfortunately now, thanks to increased habitat loss and highly efficient poaching strategies, the number is back down to below 3,500.
There may be little hope of saving the South Chinese and Indo Chinese tiger from extinction, their populations have likely fallen below what is considered a viable population, but the Royal Bengal Tiger still has a chance. We, as a global community, must work together to support conservation efforts within India and prevent the illegal trade of tiger parts in our own countries through legislation, stiff penalties and a more systematic enforcement of existing laws.
Logging and mining companies who flout the law and development projects such as thermal power plants, dams and other human encroachment on the land, even "protected" land, threaten tiger habitats at an increasing rate. These habitats are not only instrumental to the survival of the wild tiger and other endangered species but they are vital water catchment areas which replenish the underground water table. They also increase agricultural productivity and help prevent soil erosion. They are central to India's tribal life and culture.
The rapid disappearance of the wild tiger in India was, until recently, attributed almost exclusively to habitat loss. It has now become clear that the tiger faces an even greater threat from poachers. The outside demand for tiger bones and parts for use in oriental medicine has brought the tiger to the brink of extinction.
In India it is estimated that the tiger is being poached at the rate of 1 per day. At this rate the wild tiger in India will suffer the same fate as its cousins in the Far East and will disappear within the next 5 to 10 years unless serious measures are taken to protect it.
Poaching in India is organized and widespread and faces little opposition from ill equipped, unarmed and too few wardens and park rangers. A single warden can be responsible for patrolling up to 20 square kilometers a daunting task considering many of them don't have any shoes to wear let alone binoculars, vehicles or guns.
Although India has enacted legislation to protect the tiger and created many tiger reserves, enforcement has been difficult, if not impossible, with the current means available. Wardens often risk their lives to enforce the law only to be frustrated in their efforts and to find themselves reassigned to other areas. Investigators are hampered by lack of funding and poor support.
In 1994 trade in tiger parts was banned in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and much of South East Asia, but the clandestine trade continues to flourish. The trade is still legal in Japan and North Korea. Although it is banned in North America the illegal trade of tiger parts and imported medicines containing tiger parts and bone continues in both Canada and the United States.
The main areas of tiger poaching activity: Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
In the state of Madhya Pradesh, poaching has been well documented. This state was home to an estimated 910 poachings, but in April 1994, reports began to surface of widespread tiger and leopard poaching.
21 poachers and traders were arrested, and in August 4 tiger skins, 50 kilos of tiger bones, 2 tiger skulls and 145 claws were seized.
The Madhya Pradesh Governement was so alarmed they involved the police and created a "Tiger Cell" under the charge of an Inspector General. Since January 1995 the tiger cell has been responsible for the seizure of skins, bones and parts of 26 tigers and 62 leopards.
It is difficult to track the number of tigers killed every year in India, but in 1994, 50 are known to have been killed and in 1995 the Wildlife Protection Society of India reported 67 tiger poaching incidents. Some sources (Wildlife protection Society of India) estimate, that to get an accurate count, the number of tigers killed would have to be multiplied by 10.
The largest seizure took place in 1993 in Dehli when 287 Kilos of tiger bones, 8 skins, 43 leopards and a number of other skins were taken. Later police found an additional 6 sacks of tiger and leopard bones bring the total up to 400 kilos. 16 other leopard skins were also uncovered. The bones were destined for China.