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|December 3, 1997||
Indira Gandhi's death was tigers' loss: National Geographic
In the death of prime minister Indira Gandhi, Indian tigers have lost their ''chief protector,'' says National Geographic magazine.
Project Tiger, initiated by Indira Gandhi in 1973, resulted in the doubling of their numbers by the time she died in 1984. After that it began to decline.
"The tigers began to disappear. It was discovered they were being poisoned, shot, and snared so their bones could be smuggled out of India to supply manufacturers of Chinese medicines,'' the magazine adds.
Project Tiger had set aside nine national parks for special protection. The plan seemed to be working. Officials announced in 1984 that the number of tigers had more than doubled.
But her death later that year meant the loss of the tigers's chief protector. ''Human population rose and promised safe corridors were converted to farmers fields, inundated by dams and honeycombed with coal mines. There were fewer and fewer places to which young tigers could disperse and more and more conflicts between tigers and people,'' adds the magazine.
Extended field research and documentation by Geoffrey C Ward and photographer Michael Nicholas have shown that despite some progress in preserving the species, the tiger's future remains perilous.
Nicholas spent more than a year on the assignment, photographing tigers in seven countries and enjoying unusual access to the parks in India where tigers live. He shot much of the story from atop an elephant.
"The most critical problem for tigers that I saw was the loss of habitat and unavailability of food for tigers in many of their traditional home areas," Nicholas said at a press conference organised by the National Geographic Society in New Delhi yesterday.
Meanwhile, on the eve of the Chinese 'Year of the Tiger' the World Wildlife Fund is launching a new and comprehensive plan to save tigers in the wild.
The plan, unveiled at the press conference, is based on state-of-the-art technologies and is a strategic global plan to save the wild tiger population.
Of the 25 key tiger habitats, identified as priorities for international conservation, the WWF has chosen four for special focus in the Year of the Tiger. They include the Chitwan-Parsa-Valmiki region, which straddles Nepal and India, and the unique Sunderbans mangrove area shared by India and Bangladesh.
When the 20th century began, the world had an estimated 100,000 tigers. As the century ends, as few as 5,000 to 7000 are thought to survive in the wild. Of them the highest number (between 2,500 and 3,750) is in India.
Their numbers in Bangladesh is between 300 and 460, Nepal 180 and 250, Bhutan 50 and 240, Russia 430 and 470 and China 20 and 30.
Only found in Asia, more than half of the world's wild tigers are thought to live in India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Three tiger subspecies -- the Caspian, Bali and Javan tigers -- are believed to have become extinct since the 1940s and the South China tiger, hunted as vermin during the Mao Zedong era, seems poised to follow, the report adds.
The four other surviving subspecies -- Bengal, Indochinese, Sumatran and Siberian -- are all endangered.
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