With half of the world's remaining tigers within its borders, the Indian government has finally stepped up to domestic and international pressure to keep poaching in check, announcing the opening of a wildlife crime control bureau on Wednesday.
India's forests ministry said that the agency will consist of experts from multiple disciplines ranging from law enforcement, environmental organizations, revenue and customs departments. The bureau will also oversee efforts to conserve and prevent the smuggling of other endangered populations such as leopards and Tibetan antelopes, as well as medicinal herbs. "The bureau would also aim to strengthen the enforcement at international trade exit points since the major demand for the wildlife and its products lies in overseas markets," said Kalpna Palkiwala of the Forests Ministry.
Under the 1975 international CITES treaty (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) and signed by 171 nations, the trade of endangered wildlife and wildlife "products" such as tiger organs is considered illegal. Of course, this has not deterred poachers nor has it halted the thriving trade of tiger parts in China and Southeast Asia, which are primarily used in traditional Chinese medicines.
India's government already gave the go-ahead for the bureau's formation last summer when a partial survey revealed that tiger numbers were much lower than previously thought.
The final report, released late last year, is a culmination of two years of work by the state-run Wildlife Institute of India (WII). It showed that a mere 1,500 tigers are left in Indian national parks and forests in 2007 — down from 3,600 in 2003. During India's independence, there were 40,000 estimated tigers - a far cry from today's dwindling numbers.
In states such as Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan — which used to be home to most of India's tiger population — may only have less than 500 tigers left.
Image: Confiscated tiger skins and bones, Againess