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UK and India agree urgent action to save tigers from extinction

Defra : 06 February, 2006  (Company News)
The UK and Indian Governments have agreed a way forward to help to reverse the rapid decline in India's tiger population, which could be on the brink of extinction, with fears growing that organised crime is now involved in the trade in tiger skins.
Biodiversity Minister Jim Knight ended his first visit to India having reached agreement with his opposite number in the Indian Government on concrete measures to remove the threats to India's few remaining wild tigers and allow the species to thrive.

At a wildlife crime workshop organised in Delhi by Defra immediately before Jim Knight's visit, law enforcement officers and conservationists from the UK and India identified poaching and illegal trade as a major cause of the sharp drop in numbers of tigers, leopards and other rare species.

The workshop recommended that each state government draw up and implement an action plan to end poaching through better surveillance and imposition of tough penalties. Indian wildlife managers agreed to pilot a draft plan in one state before spreading best practice to other states.

Jim Knight agreed with Indian Environment and Forestry Minister, Mr A Raja, that the workshop had been an important first step towards saving India's tigers, leopards, antelopes and other threatened species. They further agreed that wildlife managers, law enforcers and conservation organisations had to work together, across national boundaries in order to share information and intelligence.

Mr Raja said that he wanted monitoring information on tiger numbers throughout India to be collated centrally so that a more accurate national picture on population trends could be kept. The Indian Government has ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the reasons for the decline in tiger numbers.

The two Ministers decided to hold more workshops for officials to share lessons learned in each country and to quickly draw up and implement firm action plans. These workshops need to involve China and Nepal as well as India and the UK because demand for tiger skins and for teeth, claws and bone for medicinal products, and for antelope fur for shawls, was fuelling a market and encouraging poaching.

They also agreed that the US-led Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking would play an important role in stopping illegal international trade. Jim Knight announced during his visit to India that the UK was joining the coalition. The bans and controls on trade in rare species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species must also be strictly enforced, they said.

They determined that, while urgent action was needed to prevent the extinction of rare species such as tigers, long-term strategies were also needed to ensure their survival.

Importantly, they said, conservation efforts had to involve local people. Unless they had secure livelihoods, adequate health care and an interest in preserving the wildlife on their doorsteps, they would understandably be more interested in meeting their basic needs by whatever means necessary. This could mean taking animal products or destroying their habitats.

Minister Raja said he had instructed state governments to deal with the human pressures on the tigers' habitat, such as construction and farming where it encroaches on the forest.

Jim Knight said:

'This has been a highly informative and productive visit. I have been privileged to see for myself some of India's rare tigers.

'I have also had the great pleasure and privilege to meet many of the people who live in the villages around Ranthambore National Park and to learn from them how they have struggled but are now finding ways to meet their own needs without encroaching on the tigers' habitat. Now we must ensure that their efforts are not jeopardised by poaching and illegal trade.

'I have discussed the problems with conservationists and Government Ministers and am now optimistic that a way can be found to break the spiralling decline in the numbers of tigers, antelopes and other rare species.

'We are going to work together earnestly and urgently to save the tigers that we all love but which depend on local people for their survival.'

On 4 February, the day before Jim Knight visited Ranthambore National Park, a man was arrested in Delhi and charged with illegally possessing more than 30 tiger and leopard skins. He is currently being held in police custody. If convicted, he faces imprisonment and a large fine.
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