Maharashtra State in western India is going after tiger poachers. In a somewhat shocking but perhaps necessary move, the state will no longer consider the killing of poachers a crime. Eight tigers have already been killed this year in Maharashtra.
Last year it was reported that Maharashtra had a population of approximately 169 tigers. Given the precarious state of big cats in India (and elsewhere), more aggressive steps are needed to protect them. All the more reason for India to support rights of nature in its constitution.
A 2011 census counted just 1,706 tigers in the wild in India.
Read more from The Guardian about this latest effort to protect India’s tigers and other species:
Indian state to let forest guards shoot poachers on sight
A western Indian state has declared war on animal poaching, allowing forest guards to shoot hunters on sight to curb attacks on tigers, elephants and other wildlife.
The government in Maharashtra says injuring or killing suspected poachers will no longer be considered a crime.
Forest guards should not be “booked for human rights violations when they have taken action against poachers”, the Maharashtra forest minister, Patangrao Kadam, said on Tuesday. The state will also send more rangers and jeeps into forests, and will offer secret payments to informers who give tips about poachers and animal smugglers, he said.
India has about half of the world’s estimated 3,200 tigers in dozens of wildlife reserves set up since the 1970s. But illegal poaching remains a serious threat, with tiger parts sought in traditional Chinese medicine fetching high prices on the black market.
According to the Wildlife Protection Society of India, 14 tigers have been killed by poachers in India so far this year – one more than for all of 2011. The tiger is considered endangered, with its habitat range shrinking more than 50% in the last quarter-century and its numbers declining rapidly from the 5,000-7,000 estimated in the 1990s, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Eight of this year’s tiger poaching deaths in India occurred in Maharashtra, including one whose body was found last week chopped into pieces with its head and paws missing in Tadoba tiger reserve. Forest officials have also found traps in the reserve, where about 40 tigers live.
Tiger parts used in traditional Chinese medicine are prized on the black market, but dozens of other animals are also targeted by hunters across India. Rhinos are prized for their horns and male elephants for their tusks, while other big cats such as leopards are hunted or poisoned by villagers afraid of attacks on their homes or livestock.
Encounters are rare between guards and poachers, who generally hunt the secretive and nocturnal big cats at night, according to Maharashtra’s chief wildlife warden, SWH Naqvi.
“We hardly ever come face-to-face with poachers,” he said on Wednesday, predicting few instances when guards might fire at suspects.
Instead, he predicted that the state’s offer to pay informers from a new government fund worth about 5m rupees ($90,000) would be more effective in curbing wildlife crime. “We get very few tips, so this will really help,” Naqvi said.