From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1998:

NEW DELHI––Koose Muniswamy
Veerappan, perhaps the most notorious
alleged poacher at large in the world, on April
11 reportedly sent three former henchmen to
police with a cassette containing an offer of
surrender. But Indian authorities were reportedly
unexcited. According to the Press Trust
of India, Veerappan has often in the past
offered to surrender in trade for clemency. He
is believed to be the world’s leading trafficker
in poached Asian elephant ivory and illegally
logged sandalwood.

The new offer came three days after
The Times of India reported that “timber
mafias backed by about 100 villagers armed
with lethal weapons stormed into the
Bangiriposi forest ranger office” at the
Simlipal Tiger Reserve in Baripada, Orissa
state, after allegedly beating forest guard
Srikant Sethy to death, and severely injured
both the chief ranger and a forester. The victims
had recently intercepted the ringleaders in
the act of taking timber from the reserve.
The newly elected Bharatiya Janata
government of India is expected to have much
less patience with poaching and corruption
within wildlife reserves than the longentrenched
Congress Party government. For
starters, People For Animals founder Maneka
Gandhi was sworn in as a junior minister in the
Bharatiya Janata government on March 15,
and was expected to be put in charge of the
wildlife department for the second time.
“During her previous stint,” recalled
John Zubrzycki of the South China Morning
P o s t , “Maneka led a nationwide crackdown
on keepers and sellers of endangered wildlife,
including snake charmers and circus owners.”
With a reputation for incorruptibility,
Maneka debuted as a member of the new
government by hacking away red tape that had
paralyzed plans to start a rehabilitation center
for endangered sloth bears on the outskirts of
Delhi. Of the 8,000 sloth bears believed to be
left in India, about 1,000 are thought to be
illegally captive, and according to the World
Society for the Protection of Animals, about
100 cubs per year are taken from the wild illegally
and trained to dance and beg. The training
is often rough, and many of the bears die
young from malnutrition, abuse, and illness.
Also put in charge of the environment
ministry’s statutory Committee for the
Purpose of Control and Supervision of
Experiments on Animals, Maneka moved
immediately to prevent the pharmaceutical
firm Ranbaxy from conducting experiments on
50 beagles imported from the U.S. on March 5,
arguing that Ranbaxy had not obtained her
committee’s permission. Ranbaxy argued that
such permission wasn’t needed, and at last
word the dispute seemed likely to go to court.
Despite Maneka’s tough approach,
indications from around India are that the
Indian counterparts of U.S. wise-use wiseguys
intend to test the new government’s will and
ability to enforce a crackdown.
One early challenge will involve the
long controversial jetty that Sanghi Industries
wants to build at Kharo Creek on the upper
Gujarat coast, jeopardizing protected wildlife
habitat. Previous environment minister
Saifuddin Soz apparently killed it on January
9, but six weeks later the Gujarat High Court
overturned his order. Maneka, fighting the
jetty for some years, is likely to seek means of
appealing and reversing the court verdict.
The signal wildlife issue, across
India, is as always tiger conservation.
Parallel to U.S. ranchers who practice
“shoot, shovel, and shut up” against
wolves for allegedly attacking cattle, cattle
farmers are believed to have poisoned 12 tigers
in and around the Jim Corbett and Dudhwa
tiger reserves in Uttar Pradesh since December
1997––10 of them in February and March.
Advocating the same approach to
tiger protection that Defenders of Wildlife has
to protecting U.S. wolves, Ashok Kumar of
Tigerlink has urged the government to expedite
compensation payments to farmers who
claim lost stock.
“At the Kanha Tiger Reserve,”
Kumar told The Times of India, “cattle kill
compensation has been paid promptly for the
last year or so, and this has more or less completely
stopped tiger poisoning cases.”
As Kumar spoke, a tiger was found
dead of unknown causes at the also heavily
grazed Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan.
Despite such reverses, India still has
more than half of all the wild tigers left in the
world, and the Indian tiger population is
believed to be recovering somewhat from
uncontrolled poaching and habitat encroachment
during the early 1990s. K.C. Gayen,
field director of the Sunderbans Tiger Project,
reported finding 821 tiger paw prints in a
December survey of the Sunderbans Tiger
Reserve, located about 75 miles south of
Calcutta––twice as many as in 1995, when the
Sunderbans tiger population was set at 242.
By contrast, no more than 300
Siberian tigers remain in their entire habitat,
and the South China tiger is reportedly down
to just 100 wild specimens, mostly in the
north and central highlands of Vietnam.
The most endangered signal species
in India today may be the Ganges river dolphin.
The Bharatiya Janata government is
expected to soon designate a 100-mile stretch
of the Ganges between Bijnor and Narora in
Uttar Pradesh as a sanctuary for the freshwater
dolphin, whose population is believed to have
fallen from circa 4,500 in 1982 to about 2,500
today. About 130-160 per year are poached,
most of them in one particularly dangerous
stretch between Buxer and Farakka, the Times
of India reported on March 23.

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