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24 Tigers Killed in Panna Tiger Reserve – None Left

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One of India’s main tiger parks, Panna Tiger Reserve, has admitted that it has no tigers left.

Just three years ago the park had at least 24 tigers, but park officials have been either unable or unwilling to protect the animals from poaching. Even more discouraging, Panna is now the second tiger reserve in India where numbers have dwindled to zero.

Officials from the reserve’s wildlife department said there was no “explicable” reason for the falling number of tigers. But according to an independent report by India’s central forest ministry, it’s pretty obvious what has killed the tigers: poachers. The report claimed that “warning bells” have been going off for almost a decade, and park officials simply failed to address them.

The problem is so severe that the grim news is likely to get repeated regarding a third Indian tiger reserve– Sanjay National Park– where all of its 15 tigers are also suspected to have disappeared. These events raise serious concerns: Just how inadequate are India’s tiger reserves, and can anything be done to save wild tigers from extinction?

A century ago, there were an estimated 40,000 tigers roaming throughout India. Today there are only 1,400– and quite possibly less than that, if counting practices like those in Panna are any indication. The region’s forest minister reassured reporters that Panna’s counting practices were uncharacteristically incompetent, and listed several other parks– such as Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench– where counts are up-to-date and park management is held in high esteem. Even so, for a park like Panna to suddenly announce that all of its tigers have disappeared only 3 years after a healthy count of 24, seemingly right from under officials’ noses, makes such claims highly suspect.

Surely, with tiger numbers plummeting so quickly, someone should have taken notice before now.

The sad reality, however, is that the business of illegal poaching has become increasingly more sophisticated and deadly over the last few years. Cartels with organization and techniques similar to drug-smugglers have made it very dangerous and expensive for authorities to stop. Meanwhile, park officials probably turn a blind eye to the killings, either from apathy, corruption or being ill-equipped to combat it.

In order to save India’s wild tigers, more will have to be done besides buckling down on poachers and smugglers. Those smugglers won’t have a business if they don’t have any buyers. International pressure needs to be applied to consumers of poached tiger products, the main buyers for which are typically in Far East countries like China, Taiwan and Korea. Education needs to be widespread regarding the threat of poaching to the survival of tigers, and superstitions need to be dissolved regarding the erroneous belief that tiger products are medicinal.

After the Panna Reserve counted zero tigers left, 2 female tigers were immediately shipped into the park from surrounding regions. Four more (2 males) are likely to join them shortly in an attempt to repopulate the now beguilingly named “Tiger Reserve”. Though now, coupled with all of the publicity, it’s not clear whether these tigers will fare any better or if they’ll be more easily marked. Hope may be won or lost for India’s ability to protect its tiger populations pending the outcome.

Source: BBC NEWS, via TreeHugger

Image Credit: catlovers on Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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