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Thursday, 19 September, 2002, 12:13 GMT 13:13 UK
Tiger death in Indian reserve row
A tiger prowls the Ranthambhor sanctuary
Tigers at the sanctuary have been left unprotected

A tiger has been found dead in one of India's best-known wildlife sanctuaries, which has been overrun by local herdsmen.

Hundreds of villagers desperate to find fodder and water for their livestock have been camping illegally in the Ranthambhor reserve in drought-hit western Rajasthan state for the last several days.

Senior government officials are trying to persuade the villagers to leave, but so far there is no sign of their moving out.

Conservationists are appalled at the situation. They say poachers, who are always looking for opportunities to kill tigers, can easily take advantage of the situation.

Cub missing

Latest reports reaching Delhi from Ranthambor say that one tigress is known to have died.

Tests are being carried out on the animal to establish the cause of death.

The tigress had two five-month-old cubs - one has gone missing and the other is dying of starvation.

There are three more tigresses with cubs near the area occupied by the villagers.

The reports suggest that there are probably now 1,000 villagers and up to 10,000 head of cattle in the park.

Fears grow

Tiger expert Fateh Singh Rathore, who is based in Ranthambhor, says a number of government officials have been trying to persuade the villagers to leave.

But neither these officials nor the wildlife rangers are prepared to get too close to the villagers for fear of provoking aggression.

In fact, the rangers have fled, leaving the whole park virtually unprotected - a cause of concern to Mr Rathore.

He says the drought has also affected the sanctuary, and Ranthambor's lakes and ponds have just enough water for the animals.

If the villagers' cattle also start drinking, there will not be enough to go round, and he says more wild animals could die.

See also:

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24 Apr 02 | Country profiles
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