Tiger running out?

Author:Bhutoria, Sundeep

According to the National Tiger Conservation Authority, at the turn of the 20th century, India was home to 40,000 tigers. Today their number in the wild does not exceed 4,000. This story echoes that of other animals, such as one-horned rhinos whose population declined to fewer than 2,400 in India. The fate of some domesticated species is equally worrisome. For example, the camel population has decreased from 600,000 to 250,000 in the past few decades due to wanton slaughter for meat. The situation is akin to a "silent holocaust," which, continuing at the same pace, will leave India with no more than 10,000 camels.

Tigers, rhinos, camels and other animals are facing the threat of extinction in India. Let me speak about tigers, which, but for a gargantuan government effort, would have vanished long ago.

I have been an animal lover since childhood, and it was only natural for me as an adult to become a wildlife activist. Tigers have fascinated me all of my life and my crowning glory moment occurred in August 2013, when I bid for and adopted a young yet-to-be-named Royal Bengal tigress at the Alipore Zoological Garden in Kolkata, the capital of the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, home to the world's second largest species of the big cats.

What began as a hobby, over the years, evolved into a matter of grave concern for the very existence of these animals. No informed wildlife preservationist in India can rest in peace in the wake of media reports and troubling statistics that allude to an enormous conservation task at hand.

In September 2013, I learned from the news that one of the largest and strongest networks of poachers in India was busted with the arrest of a notorious 65-year-old tiger parts trader, Surajpal alias Chacha, who, along with his nephew Sarju, is said to have killed 300 tigers in the past 30 years and smuggled hides, bones and skulls out of the country, particularly to China, while making millions of dollars.

This revelation was an eye-opener. While I was always aware of a poaching problem in India, like many others I had no idea of the enormity of the crisis. Police recovered 18 kilogrammes of tiger bones, nails and skulls at Surajpal's, who ran his operations from Delhi. The authorities also confiscated 50 million Indian rupees in cash (approximately US $100,000).

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), top investigation agency in India, and the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau had been searching for Chacha since 2005...

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