More talk than tiger-saving in India, with poaching on the rise

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2003:

NEW DELHI–Former U.S. President Bill Clinton and his
daughter Chelsea in March 2000 viewed a tiger named Bhambu Ram in
Ranthambore National Park.
This for a time made Bhambu Ram the poster-cat for Indian
tiger conservation–but he is now believed to be a posthumous
Months after rumors reached mass media that Bhambu Ram had
disappeared, police supposedly seized his pelt in Delhi.
Months after that, Indian minister for the environment and
animals T.R. Baalu in February 2003 proposed a meeting among
government officials and conservation groups to discuss what to do
about escalating tiger poaching.
Tigers, elephants, leopards, and smaller species are all
under increased poaching stress lately. This is partly because India
is among the last nations where significant populations of animals
valued in traditional Asian medicine still can be found. Poaching
persists because of corrupt and inefficient links in wildlife habitat
management and law enforcement, and because the political priorities
of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Dal party do not favor animals.

Like the Congress Party governments that preceded the 1998
ascent of the BJP, the BJP powerbrokers have discovered that
there are more votes and kickbacks in economic activity with a quick
payoff, whether legal or illegal, than in taking a hard line on
animal and habitat protection.
The depressed global economy, the May 2002 mob killing of
more than 100 Hindus and 2,000 Muslims in Ahmedabad, and fears that
all-out war may erupt between India and Pakistan have combined to
depress ecotourism to India, which was already declining when the
BJP came to power because of underpromotion in the U.S. and a paucity
of tigers accessible to view.
The chief economic value of tigers to India these days may be
misperceived as funding granted to tiger conservation projects–$10
million since 1995 just from the Save The Tiger Fund, a joint
project of ExxonMobil and the U.S.-based National Fish & Wildlife
Most of the money went to India, but what it bought is unclear.
A dam project reportedly near final approval is expected to isolate
the 43 tigers in the Tadoba-Anhari Tiger Reserve of Maharashtra from
other populations to the north and east. As the Maharashtra tiger
count dropped from 257 in 1997 to 238 in 2001, the Tadoba-Anhari
count increased by five.
The Palamu Tiger Project in Patna, begun in 1976 as part of
the original crash effort to save Indian tigers, claimed then to be
protecting a population of 30. By 1984 the official count was said
to be 62, but a 1999 count found just 37.
Tigers were in November 2001 declared extinct in Gujarat.
Madya Pradesh claimed 912 tigers in 1993 and 927 in 1997, but former
director-general of police R.P. Sharma, now heading an organization
called the Crusade for Revival of Environment and Wildlife, warned
in 1999 that the official counts should be regarded with great
skepticism due to increasing economic use of the habitat, resulting
in reduction of the tigers’ prey base.
As wild prey declines, tigers prey more on humans, a
phenomenon most evident in the Sunderbans swampland of West Bengal,
lying between Calcutta and Bangladesh, where tigers kill an average
of more than 10 people per year.
Officially, the Sunderbans are home to 284 of the 365 tigers living
in West Bengal, who feed mainly upon 80,000 antelope of various
species and 20,000 wild pigs.
The major economic development underway in the Sunderbans,
however, is oil drilling begun in October 2002 by ONGC, a firm
owned by the Indian government.
The most recently reported tiger conservation project was
putting up seven kilometres of nylon netting intended to keep animals
from the Sajnekhali Tiger Reserve from entering Baligram village.

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