India’s state Maharashtra has declared war on animal poaching by allowing forest guards to shoot hunters on sight in an effort to curb rampant attacks on tigers and other wildlife.
The government in Maharashtra says injuring or killing suspected poachers will no longer be considered a crime.
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, the minister said.
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. 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 live.
In many of India’s reserves, guards are armed with little more than sticks. No tiger poachers have ever been shot in Maharashtra, though cases of illegal loggers and fishermen being shot 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.
India faces intense international scrutiny over its tiger conservation, as it holds half of the world’s estimated 3,200 tigers in dozens of wildlife reserves set up since the 1970s, when hunting was banned.
Illegal poaching remains a stubborn and serious threat, with tiger parts in particular fetching high prices on the black market because of demand driven by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners.
But the tiger is not the only species endangered by poaching. As a matter of fact, a recent study published in Biological Conservation on hunting in India noted 114 species of mammals were being actively hunted across the country, with dozens of birds and reptiles also under attack.
According to this study, some of the most rampant hunting is occurring in the eastern Himalayas, where high numbers of army troops are deployed and some 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 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.”
The above news item is reprinted from materials available at Associated Press via Wildlife Protection Society of India. Original text may be edited for content and length.