In only the last eight years, the Bengal Tiger population has decreased by over 61% and is now frighteningly close to extinction with only 1,400 of the cats left. Habitat loss and poaching are to blame for their decline. Nagarhole Tiger Reserve is home to the highest density of these tigers in all of India, attracting a heavy and constant flow of poachers. Forest officers tasked with protecting the National Park’s tiger population (and other wildlife) from the poachers are now impeded by a devastating combination of muddy monsoon conditions and a complete lack of defense.
Following a shooting incident inside the Reserve, neighboring police departments confiscated wildlife officials’ firearms as part of routine procedure and will not return them until the investigation is completed and the case closed. In some ranges of this National Park, as much as 40% of their firearms were taken, including service rifles. In fact, the forest officers of one of the Reserve’s ranges were left with only a single rifle to protect the animals and themselves against the heavily armed poaching gangs frequenting the Reserve.
Tiger skins removed from carcasses so bones can be sold for tiger bone wine.
Further complicating anti-poaching efforts are the muddy conditions brought about by the current monsoon season, which prevents the officers from using vehicles to patrol the park. Forced to conduct foot patrols without an adequate supply of firearms, many staff refuse to put themselves at such high risk. Consequently, poachers are enabled to do increased damage to the Reserve’s tiger population, as well as other wildlife species such as the Asian elephant.
Many struggling nations lack the finances and manpower necessary for enforcing laws against poaching. As a result, poaching goes on largely unchecked and wildlife populations dwindle. In Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, these issues are further complicated by the fact that police agencies have the power to remove wildlife officials’ main means of fighting off poachers and putting the guards’ lives at risk. One forest officer proclaims, “How can one government department seize the arms of another? The Veeranahosahalli range had only one gun until last month till we borrowed a rifle from the neighboring range for patrolling.”
The tigers of this 650 km ² National Park are at a severely increased risk of being slaughtered until the police agencies return forest officers’ firearms. China’s demand for tiger parts used in traditional medicine and eaten as delicacy have fueled rampant poaching of the animals, decimating their populations throughout Asia. Four of ten tiger species have gone extinct in the last 100 years. The remaining six species are all listed as critically endangered. Most at risk of extinction are South China tigers, with a mere 47 left in zoos and only a few remaining in the wild. Anti-poaching efforts are key to preventing the extinction of all remaining tiger species.
Photo obtained from NatGeo News Watch