Sanctuary to save old tigers from poachers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 May, 2005, 12:00am

Wildlife authorities in eastern India are setting up a special reserve for tigers who can no longer hunt - in order to slow the endangered animal's rapidly declining population.

The reserve, which will be in one of the world's largest mangrove forests in the Sundarbans Delta about 100km south of Calcutta, will serve as a rehabilitation centre for the sick and ageing tigers.

The chief conservator of the Sundarbans forest, Atanu Kumar Raha, said tigers that could no longer catch prey because of their age or injuries would be moved to the sanctuary, where they would be safe from poachers.

'It will be like an old-age home for the tigers. We will develop it as a natural habitat for them so that the animals do not feel that they are in captivity,' he said.

India's wild-tiger population has dwindled rapidly in recent years, prompting an international outcry among conservationists. While the tigers numbered an estimated 40,000 a century ago, the official estimate of the population of India's national animal has dropped to 3,700.

Conservationists say, however, that there are now probably no more than 2,000 tigers in India.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last month, the head of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, Willem Wijnstekers, wrote that while India was a signatory to the convention, the sluggishness with which it was implementing anti-poaching measures was undermining its stated commitment to the treaty.

Mr Raha said weakened animals will be fed and given veterinary treatment while in the reserve, with those recovering their health later being released back into the wild.