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Page last updated at 11:32 GMT, Wednesday, 16 April 2008 12:32 UK

'Act now' to save India's tigers

A tigress with her cubs in India's Bandhavgarh park
There has been a sharp decline in the number of tigers in India

The European Parliament has called for a new strategy to prevent the tiger from becoming extinct.

The organisation's India delegation is holding a "Tiger Day" at the European Parliament in Brussels.

Indian government figures show the country's tiger population has fallen hugely in the past five years with only 1,411 tigers left in the wild.

Wildlife activists blame poaching and urbanisation for the decline and say the authorities must do more.

'Trafficking mafia'

"Recent figures show... by 2025 the tiger may be extinct," Neena Gill, president of the European Parliament's India delegation, said.

"India alone cannot tackle this looming extinction. It is time for the European Union to take a stronger role in the international drive to save the tiger," she said.

Ms Gill's office said that one of the chief causes of the declining numbers of tigers is the presence of "tiger trafficking mafias" in Asia who are poaching Indian tigers, trafficking skins and body parts across Nepal and the Himalayan region to China.

China is a big marker for tiger skins and bones which are sold at a profit of 900%.

Tiger skins
Tiger skins and other body parts sell for thousands of dollars

It says that China is under pressure from its tiger "farmers" to lift its existing ban on the trade in tiger parts and legalise it.

But conservationists say such a move would devastate the wild tiger population by causing an upturn in demand for tiger products and increasing poaching in the wild.

"With the run up to the Beijing Olympics, the world's attention is on China. We must raise this issue with the authorities and ensure they do not lift the ban on trade in tiger products which would prove disastrous to global efforts to save the tiger," says Ms Gill.

"Losing the tiger would be a global tragedy. Therefore, I am calling on the European Union to develop a comprehensive strategy to tackle this issue."

Poachers

Meanwhile, police in the northern Uttar Pradesh state say they have seized 20 skins of tigers and leopards.

The recovery was made in Pratapgarh district, 200km (124 miles) east of the state capital Lucknow.

Police have also arrested two people who, they said, were trying to smuggle out the skins to Nepal.

According to the latest Indian government figures released in February, the number of tigers in the wild has fallen to 1,411 - down from 3,642 in the last major survey in 2002.

Last year, federal authorities announced the creation of a special force to protect tigers. But it is unclear whether this strategy has worked.

Experts blame the government for failing to crack down on poachers and the illegal trade in tiger skins.

Tigers are poached for their body parts - skins are prized for fashion and tiger bones are used for oriental medicines.

Tiger pelts can fetch up to $12,500 in China.

According to reports, there were 40,000 tigers in India a century ago.

The country is home to 40% of the world's tigers, with 23 tiger reserves in 17 states.




SEE ALSO
India tiger population declines
13 Feb 08 |  South Asia
Indian tiger skins 'sold abroad'
22 Sep 05 |  South Asia
India to probe wildlife poacher
01 Jul 05 |  South Asia
Indian agency to protect tigers
25 Jun 05 |  South Asia
India investigates tiger decline
29 Apr 05 |  South Asia

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