[ 8 Aug, 2006 0315hrs IST TIMES NEWS NETWORK ]
NEW DELHI: With police and forest officials seizing at least six tiger skins, 19 leopard skins and several kilograms of big cat bones from illegal wildlife traders across India in the past four weeks, alarmed conservationists feel that the feeble efforts by UPA government notwithstanding, poaching continues to be child's play.
The seizures were made between July 12 to August 6 in 11 separate incidents in the small towns and qasbahs of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
The latest tiger skin confiscation took place near Mala railway station in Pilibhit district on Saturday. The Uttar Pradesh forest department seized two tiger skins and 1 kg tiger bones. A man of Bangladeshi origin was apprehended. Two others escaped.
"These are skins of adult tigers about 10-11 feet long," says Tito Joseph of Wildlife Protection Society of India. Conservationists say these incidents indicate that traders of tiger and leopard skins exist in cities, towns and qasbahs alike.
Some confiscations have been made from little-known towns such as Kanker in Chhattisgarh where a 10-feet-long tiger skin was seized by the forest department on July 12.
Similarly, two leopard skins were confiscated on July 30 from the boondocks of Orissa's Kandhamal district.
Tiger conservationist Valmik Thapar feels that saving the tiger is not a priority for the UPA government. "Even today, there are 20,000 vacancies for forest staff. And the average age of forest guards is 50," he says.
As per government estimates, about 3,600 tigers survive in India. But Thapar offers a different figure. "On the basis of my 30 years experience in conservation, my guess is anything between 1,200 to 1,500," he says.
Among those arrested last month was Ashok Sharma, son of alleged wildlife trader Ratiram Sharma. On July 25, he was on his way to Bhutan with one tiger skin and three leopard skins when police apprehended him.
Ratiram had earlier been nabbed on July 14 with four leopard skins, 11 kg of tiger bones and skulls and 16 kg of rhino skins. WPSI sources say the skins and bones were sourced from animals poached in Assam.