India sets up anti-poaching force as tigers dwindle
India has opened a national wildlife crime prevention bureau aimed at intensifying a difficult fight against the poaching of tigers and other endangered species, officials said.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered the setting-up of the federal agency in March last year after a national outcry over the large-scale slaughter of tigers.
The Indian forest ministry said Tuesday the bureau will draw experts from the police, environmental agencies and customs, and try to "reduce demand for wildlife and its products."
The government admitted in 2005 that poachers killed 122 tigers between 1999 and 2003. An earlier official count in 2001-02 estimated that there were 3,642 tigers in India, down from about 40,000 before the 1947 independence from Britain.
Wildlife protection groups say that the states of Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, which previously accounted for most of India's tiger population, may today have less than 500 animals left.
Around 8,000 leopards are also officially listed in India's 592 state-protected forests.
In November last year, India began recruiting retired soldiers to guard sanctuaries sheltering the increasingly rare Royal Bengal Tiger after a study showed their numbers were also far below previous estimates.
Tiger hunting is illegal worldwide, and the trade in tiger skins, claws and other products often wanted for use in traditional Chinese medicine is banned under a treaty binding 167 countries, including India.
For The Tiger
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