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India becoming global tiger poaching hotspot

Murali Krishnan New Delhi
November 15, 2022

India has the world's largest tiger population, but also the highest level of wildlife trade and poaching. Animal rights activists say the big cats need more protection.

A Bengal tiger stands on a rock in Hyderabad
Although India has been successful in preserving its tiger populaton, poaching remains a problemImage: Mahesh Kumar A/AP/picture alliance

India has witnessed a sharp increase in tiger poaching, according to a new report released by Traffic, a global wildlife trade watchdog.

The report, "Skin and Bones: Tiger trafficking analysis from January 2000 to June 2022," showed a total of 3,330 tigers were illegally confiscated globally during this timeframe.

Out of this number, 893 of the tigers were seized in India, which is home to more than half of the global wild tiger population.

Tiger skin is the most sought-after part of the animal, along with claws and teeth. Out of the global total, 38% of tiger skins, and 42% of claws and teeth, were seized in India, the report showed.

"The evidence clearly shows poaching and illegal trade are not temporary threats. Unless we want to watch wild tigers wiped out in our lifetime, immediate action must be a priority," Kanitha Krishnasamy, director for Traffic in Southeast Asia, told DW.

Indian conservationists up against poachers

According to census estimate in 2018, India had a tiger population of around 3,000. While the country is succeeding in increasing its tiger population, the rising number of big cats being poached remains a concern.

Conservationists says poachers are also looking for innovative ways to hunt down tigers.

A tiger carcass on a forest floor
A poached Bengal tiger caracass found in an Indian forest with a wire around its waist Image: Saikat Paul/Pacific Press/picture alliance

"Wildlife crime is and always will be a perpetual threat. We can never put our guard down," wildlife conservationist Valmik Thapar told DW.

"India has nearly 65% of the world's wild tigers. For poachers, it is the best place to find them, as you can locate them more easily. Between 2000 and 2008 we lost all the tigers in two of our premier tiger reserves Sariska and Panna," he added.

Thapar said that the Indian government needs to bolster their field enforcement and impart special training programs for wildlife rangers who protect tiger reserves.

"This report reveals the urgency of the problem. It must be seriously analyzed in order to create interventions for the safety of not just tigers but all our wildlife," he added.

Tiger parts ranging from whiskers to tail is used in traditional Chinese medicine. Bones are highly coveted, and are said to treat maladies ranging from joint pain, epilepsy, baldness and toothaches. However, there is no scientific evidence behind these claims.

Yadvendradev Vikramsinh Jhala, a conservationist at the Wildlife Institute of India, said poaching is the biggest threat to tiger survival and international illegal demand for tiger body parts needs to be dampened.

"Controlled poaching will continue despite good law enforcement. India has the world's largest population. Therefore, it's quite understandable that poaching levels are also high," Jhala told DW.

Urban sprawl cuts down habitat

India's 53 tiger reserves and protected areas are surrounded by a growing human population, with habitats slowly being chipped away.

"If we can make an exhaustive list of the missing tigers from parks it will be surprising," wildlife cinematographer Subbiah Nallamuthu told DW.

"Unlike before, there is no longer a necessity for poachers to enter the park and kill the tigers. These conflict tigers have lost their prey base and most of the important protected areas were lost due to encroachment," he added.

In Nallamuthu's estimate, most tiger migration routes have been destroyed and there is not enough prey for tigers to survive on within former core habitats.

"The majority of tiger parks have lost their prey populations due to local poaching, forcing the tigers to go outside in search of food… and are more easily killed," he added.

Edited by: Wesley Rahn 

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