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.
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