New Delhi: India will spend Rs50 crore to create a special force to guard its last surviving tigers, as numbers dwindle in the face of rampant poaching and destruction of their habitat.
Poorly armed and badly paid guards, mismanagement and corruption undermine the protection of tigers in the country. There are thought to be just 1,411 tigers left in India, according to a new survey that cut numbers by half since 2002 census.
The decline is even more alarming considering India had about 40,000 tigers a century ago.
Conservationists say it is unlikely the dwindling population will ever recover, but the government is not giving up just yet.
Finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram announced a Rs50 crore one-off grant, mainly to raise, arm and deploy a special Tiger Protection Force.
“The number 1,411 should ring the alarm bell. That is the number of tigers in India,” he told Parliament, presenting his budget for FY 2008-09. “The tiger is under grave threat.”
A severe lack of funds has meant forest guards and other staff have to wait up to a year to be paid and key positions have been left vacant.
Some of those money problems are being addressed, but experts say wildlife planning needs to be much better.
For instance, experts say around 3,00,000 of the country’s poorest people living in its 28 tiger reserves need to be shifted out because many of them help poachers kill tigers and cut down forests.
Conservationists say recruits for the tiger protection force should come from tribesmen and forest communities, to help wean them away from poachers and use their expertise.
“Any benefit of a programme has to show on the ground,” said A. Johnsingh, wildlife expert and adviser to World Wildlife Fund-India.