Wednesday, May 30, 2007

India court issues rules to save threatened tigers

JAIPUR, India - An Indian court has banned hotels, flash photography, firearms and diesel vehicles from the last remaining tiger habitat in the Indian state of Rajasthan to protect dwindling numbers of the threatened cats.

The ruling on Ranthambore National Park by Rajasthan's High Court on Friday is part of a list of guidelines which also includes closing the park two days a week to tourists and constructing a periphery wall to stop encroachments.

"(Wildlife) are still running for a safe shelter for their survival and existence," said Justice Ashok Parihar.

The order comes days after a census indicated the number of endangered tigers is much lower than previously thought.

India is home to half the world's surviving tigers, but conservationists say it is losing the battle to save them.

There were about 40,000 tigers in India a century ago. A count conducted in 2001 and 2002 suggested that had fallen to around 3,700, after decades of poaching and habitat destruction.

But the latest census suggested there may only be a third as many tigers as previously thought in some states, which conservationists fear is indicative of the situation in the rest of the country.

The western state of Rajasthan once boasted two well-populated tiger reserves -- Ranthambore and Sariska.

But in early 2005, India was shocked by news that Sariska's entire tiger population has been wiped out as poachers slaughtered 13 big cats over four years.

Local authorities now say they are committed to protecting the state's last remaining tigers, which are in Ranthambore, an area 480 km (300 miles) southwest of New Delhi that attracts thousands of visitors every year.

There are around 35 adult tigers in the park, according to findings from the new census.

Commercial activity such as hotels, mining activities and villages must be removed from "eco-sensitive" areas and a six-foot (1.8 metres) high wall with check points must be built around the park, the court said.

"The fencing must be done on a priority basis so as to avoid encroachments in the park area and also secure the safety of the wildlife of the park," said Parihar.

Only vehicles operating on petrol and compressed natural gas will be permitted in the park and all cars carrying tourists must say at least 30 yards (27 metres) away from wild animals.

The chief warden and head of the park must also be held directly responsible for any poaching, the court said.

Story Date: 28/5/2007

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