|Geschrieben von Thealon am 29.03.2005, 18:25:
Scandal of Indian tigers that disappeared
By Jo Johnson
Published: March 29 2005 03:00 | Last updated: March 29 2005 03:00
The mystery of the missing tigers is a sorry tale of official incompetence and corruption in India.
Just as Captain Renault was "shocked, quite shocked" to find gambling in Casablanca, so Indian forest officials and state governments have been scandalised at news that there is not a single tiger left in one of the country's main wildlife reserves. Over the last six months, not one pug mark has been found of the 24 tigers supposed to inhabit the 880 square kilometre Sariska reserve in Rajasthan.
"It's probably the biggest conservation scandal in modern times," says Belinda Wright, executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India.
As irate tourists and conservationists challenge India's numerous parks to come clean about their surviving big cat populations, it is clear the problem at Sariska reflects a national trend. India's claim to have a total tiger population of 3,723 at the latest census in 2002 massively overstates reality, experts say. "We'll be blessed if there are 2,000," Ms Wright says.
Mocked by opposition parties for being as invisible as the missing tigers themselves in recent months, Manmohan Singh, India's low-key prime minister, has belatedly leapt to the defence of the national symbol, dispatching detectives to Rajasthan and setting up a national wildlife crime prevention bureau. It is almost certainly too late, however, to save India's tiger economy. Tiger statistics seem to be an accounting sham based on beguiling but bogus statistics.
The Indian economy, which is looking to tourism as an important source of growth, jobs and foreign exchange, will feel the ramifications of the tiger crisis. With the government's glitzy Incredible India! advertising campaign in full swing, the revelation that affluent eco-tourists are almost as likely to see unicorns as Royal Bengal tigers is an embarrassment the industry cannot afford. Despite its cultural and geographical diversity, India attracts less then 1 per cent of global tourist traffic.
G.S. Rathore of Pench Jun gle camps in Madhya Pradesh has advised clients who want to see tigers to go to the zoo - or to Africa. He puts the number of tigers in the Pench reserve at 25, compared to the official figure of 58. "It is a worry for us," he says. "We are in the safari business so the decline in the number of sightings directly affects us. I think the tigers may have gone to other areas where there is more water and that they will be back when the rains come in June."
Conservationists are not so sure.
They see an orchestrated deception of breathtaking scale and duration. "There is absolutely no bureaucratic accountability in India, which explains why officials are still not admitting that this is happening and why some are telling people that the tigers will come back over the summer," says Ms Wright. "If an outgoing field director claims to have 35 tigers in his reserve, his successor will never admit to a lower number because he fears being transferred and seeing his career affected. The whole situation is a complete shambles."
While the Ranthambore reserve, for example, reports 35 tigers, NGOs say there are now fewer than 20.
At the Panna sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, officials claimed 34 tigers and one cub in a hurried census last week, but sightings are ever more infrequent. Most of the big cats have been killed either by poachers or by villagers looking to put an end to uncompensated loss of livestock. "At Panna, they collected 64 pug marks in six days and announced 35 tigers, which just happens to be one more than last year," Ms Wright says. "The data was faked."
The incentives for those aiding poacher gangs are terrifying. The tiger skin and 18kg bag of bones found on two women arrested on February 19 by a field officer in the Katerniaghat wildlife sanctuary would have been worth vast sums to the poaching rings that sell them mainly in China.
According to figures in the Indian media, Chinese medicine's blind demand for organs and body parts means that tiger skins can fetch up to $50,000 and their bones around $400 a kilogram. Tiger penises reportedly sell for $850.
Project Tiger, the scheme set up by prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1973 to ensure a viable population in the sub-continent, initially seemed a success, with numbers rising from 1,800 in 1973 to 4,300 in 1988. But, according to P.K. Sen, who ran the scheme between 1996-2001 and is now director of the World Wildlife Fund's tiger programme in India, the data supplied by state governments was bogus from the start. "I pointed out that it is biologically impossible to go from 1,800 to 4,300 in 15 years, but no one listened," he says.
Recalling his arrival in 1992 as director of the Palamau Tiger reserve in Bihar, where timber and mining mafias are encroaching on the animal's natural habitat, Mr Sen says he found his predecessor had boasted of 69 tigers.
"This was absurd, of course. But when I stood up and said there weren't more than 40, all the newspapers started accusing me of killing off 29 tigers. The tiger is now extinct in many areas and we must make every effort to preserve populations that remain. Sadly, I suspect they are not viable."
Grüße an die Zukunft.