Sunday, April 08, 2007

Indian poachers may be passing of lion body parts as tigers

Express News Service

Rajkot, April 4: Poaching was never a big issue at Gir Wildlife Sanctuary... That is not till now, when the lion figures here have knocked the living daylights out of everybody.

Ever since 1919, when the then Nawab of Junagadh gave a serious thought to lion conservation —there have hardly been any incidents of poaching here. Not that security over the 1,400 square-km area of the sanctuary was ever too tight to breach. What experts feel is that unlike the tiger, the lion's hide, bones and claws had few buyers in the international market. What may have changed now is that the poachers pass off the claws and bones of the lion as that of the tiger— which has a ready market in some Western and Eastern countries.

"Though lion hunting has always been cause of amusement and pride for the royals, what majorly led to their killing post-independence was the high price their hide and claws fetched in the international market," said principal conservator of forest (retired) Sanat Chavan adding that this was why the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary never caught the fancy of poachers. Expert say that the tiger hide is made into coats, while the bones are much in demand for their medicinal value in countries such as China, Taiwan, Korea and Thailand. These coats made from tiger hide can fetch anything between Rs 50 to 60 lakh.

Renowned wildlife photographer Bhusan Pandya, who has done a number of assignments on Asiatic lions said, "There's a distinct possibility that claws and bones of the lions are passed off as that of the tiger. Eastern countries including China use tiger bones for their medicinal value," said Pandya adding that even tiger claws are a big draw in the international market.

Chavan noted that the problem of poachers had surfaced in the the Gir Sanctuary in the early nineties when Dafers (a gang of poachers) had targeted wild animals, but even they had spared the big cats. Joint efforts made by the forest and police departments put the gang behind bars.

Stray incidents if killing lions was always due to the man, animal conflict, when villagers resorted to killing lions to protect their livestock, said Chavan. newsid=230086

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