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Environmentalist Peter Richardson
"One tiger is lost each day in India"
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Thursday, 23 March, 2000, 10:35 GMT
Clinton on the tiger's trail

Ranthambore is one of the best places to spot a tiger
There are fears that President Bill Clinton's tryst with a tiger in one of India's wildlife parks may not come about.

The Indian leg of the president's tour includes a three-hour trip on Thursday through Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan - regarded as one of the best places in the world to spot the big cat.

Forest officials in the park are trying their best to ensure that at least one of the preserve's 30 tigers chances on the president's path.

We expect the tigers to co-operate. Experts are following the pugmarks

Ranthambore National Park official
"We are not sure on which route the president will go," said RK Tyagi, a Project Tiger official.

"We expect the tigers to co-operate. Experts are following the pugmarks," one official said.

"But we've warned them [the Americans] that it's not like British colonial times," one said.

During the days of the British Raj, when shooting tigers for recreation was a regular pastime, tigers would be lured by setting up baits and traps.

The practice is now outlawed.

Instead, officials said, they planned to send out experienced tiger trackers with walkie-talkies ahead of Mr Clinton's arrival, to try and locate the park's tigers.

Ancient game park

Ranthambore is a 400 sq km park spread over an area of thick forest with streams and waterfalls.

A system of lakes and rivers is hemmed in by steep crags, at the top of which is a fort built in the 10th Century.

President Clinton and Chelsea visited the Taj Mahal
The park was the hunting preserve of the former maharajas of Jaipur.

Although it has fewer tigers than many other similar parks, it is regarded as one of the best places in the world to spot the striped cat.

"Tigers can be seen more easily in Ranthambore because the prey base is larger," said PK Sen, director of Project Tiger.

"In Ranthambore, tigers stroll out on their own. There is no element of surprise or fear. They've gotten used to jeeps," said Valmik Thapar, a leading tiger conservationist.

Dwindling numbers

Ahead of Mr Clinton's visit, wildlife campaigners have accused the Indian Government of failing to crack down on tiger poachers.

The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said the Indian authorities were still ignoring expert advice to set up a specialist unit to fight the problem.

The EIA's Peter Richardson told the BBC that the current government - in particular the minister for environment - seemed to be "totally disinterested."

He said smuggling of animal parts was a growing problem.

Some estimates say that the total number of tigers has fallen to around 3,500 from 4,300 just 11 years ago.

Encroachment by local villagers in some areas are destroying their natural habitat.

Tigers are also poached for their skin, bones and body parts, which are used in Chinese medicine.

Conservationists estimate India is losing about 200 to 300 tigers a year to poaching and development projects.

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See also:

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