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Last Updated: Monday, 23 May, 2005, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
Old tigers in India to get home
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Indian tiger
India once had some 40,000 tigers
A special reserve for old tigers that are not able to hunt any more is being set up in eastern India in the Sunderbans delta.

Forest officials say this is meant to help check India's falling population of tigers.

Official estimates put India's tiger population at around 3,700. Conservationists say it could be less than 2,000.

The declining tiger population has become a major controversy in India.

A century ago, it was estimated the country had some 40,000 tigers. But hunting and rampant poaching of tigers for their body parts - used in traditional Chinese medicines - has brought the animal closer to extinction.

'Old-age home'

The chief conservation officer for the Sunderban forest, Atanu Raha, said sick and ageing tigers that could not fend for themselves anymore would be brought to a special rehabilitation centre so that they did not fall prey to poaching.

"It will be like an old-age home," he said.

"We will develop this as a natural habitat so that the animals don't feel they are in captivity," Mr Raha said. "This will not be a zoo or even a protected reserve."

Old or wounded tigers often stray into villages near forests looking for easy prey, such as people or livestock and are often killed by angry villagers or fall victim to poachers.

Mr Raha said the special tiger rehabilitation centre would treat injured and ailing tigers and then release them back into the wild.

Tigers kill five to six people in the area every year, sometimes more.

The mangrove marshlands of the Sunderbans, along the coast of the Bay of Bengal, are one of the last surviving natural habitats of the tiger.

The Sunderban forest measures nearly 10,000 sq km (3,860 sq miles), straddling India's West Bengal state and neighbouring Bangladesh.

A tiger census last year showed only 275 tigers surviving in the Indian part of the Sunderbans which is also home to salt water crocodiles and rare river dolphins.

Last month, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set up a tiger task force to review the management of reserves around the country after reports that between 100 and 125 tigers are being killed each year in the country.

On Monday the prime minister began a visit to the famous Ranthambore tiger reserve in the western state of Rajasthan to get a first-hand-account of the situation.


SEE ALSO:
UN warns India over tiger numbers
12 Apr 05 |  South Asia
Where have all the tigers gone?
11 Apr 05 |  South Asia
Rajasthan suspends tiger wardens
01 Apr 05 |  South Asia
Bengal tigers to be counted
14 Jan 04 |  South Asia
Bengal tiger census plan
31 Jul 03 |  South Asia


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