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Mike Wooldridge in Dehli
"The WWF says it is not easy identifying animals from their skins"
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Tuesday, 18 January, 2000, 12:58 GMT
TV tigress feared dead

Tiger Sita and two of her cubs in Bandhavgarh national park in May 1998


By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

Wildlife experts in India say they think a pelt found in the house of a poacher may be that of Sita, a tigress known around the world from her media appearances.

Sita, who was 18, lived in the Bandhavgarh national park in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, but has not been seen there since October 1998.

The skin was found in the home of a man with a record of poaching and petty thieving who lives near the park.

Forest officials said it bore markings similar to Sita's, and had bloodstains showing that the tiger had been killed recently.

Sita, more than three metres (10 ft) long, is known to have produced six litters, though of the 18 cubs she bore only seven survived.

Used to human contact

She once appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine, and featured often in BBC TV documentaries.

Naresh Bedi of the BBC, who had filmed her on many occasions, thinks Sita's familiarity with humans, and her dependency on them for food, may have been her undoing.

tiger skin The markings suggest the skin comes from Sita
He believes she might have been an easy target for poachers because her skill at surviving in the wild could have been blunted.

There were about 80,000 wild tigers in the world a century ago. Today there are between 5,000 and 7,500.

Officials in India estimate that poachers there are killing one tiger a day, and the prospect of them surviving much longer in the wild is slim.

Other pressures include habitat loss and hostility from humans when the tigers take their livestock.

Since the 1940s, three sub-species have disappeared - the Javan, Balinese and Caspian tigers.

Little hope

There is a tiny remnant still surviving in south China, but they are not expected to hold out for long.

The tiger populations in Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam all face growing pressure, though hopes are higher for those in Sumatra and the Russian Far East.

Bangladesh has perhaps the largest population of Bengal tigers, concentrated in the Sundarbans, the coastal forests in the south of the country.

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See also:
01 Nov 99 |  Sci/Tech
China promises to conserve rare species
23 Jul 99 |  Sci/Tech
Russia's wild east ablaze again
12 Jan 00 |  South Asia
Tiger skin haul 'biggest ever'

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