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Tiger poaching in India – how is this illegal trade carried out?
In the last seven years, 201 tigers have been killed by poachers in India. A total of 76 tigers died in 2013, out of which 39 were killed by poachers. Past figures of tiger poaching reflect the grave picture of Indian wildlife with 2005 being one of the worst year in the last decade with 46 tigers hunted down by poachers. Such tiger deaths in huge numbers reflect the Indian wildlife crisis with illegal trade of tiger skin and bones in huge demand, especially in the Chinese market.

The government is aware of the appalling situation, but still they are not able to curb poaching in India. “Wildlife trade is the third largest illegal trade after drugs and arms and ammunitions,’’ said Upamanyu Raju, Founder CEO for Tiger Protection Group. If the situation is not brought under control soon, then India might just be left with hundreds of tigers. The 2010 report stated that India had 1706 tigers in India. 2012 witnessed 89 tiger deaths with 31 of them falling prey to poachers. If India does not have a market for tiger trade, where do these tigers end up?

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“Someone, somewhere is getting monetary benefits by killing tigers in India. There is an illegal demand of tiger’s body parts. It is a demand not from India, but China, as tiger bones are used for traditional Chinese medicines and also used while preparing wine,’’ said Tito Joseph, Program Manager for Wildlife Protection Society of India ( WPSI). 

Tiger poaching has become a huge racket around the world and a whole lot of money is involved in it. There are various methods of poaching, but the four common ones are steel trap method, poisoning, electrocution and sometimes even firearms are used to take a shot at the tiger, but the last method is primarily rare. The steel traps are prepared by blacksmiths and it is so dangerous that even the villagers avoid going to the area with the fear of being trapped. The poison is strategically placed in the carcasses of buffaloes and cows.

The story does not end here. After the killing, poachers peel off the skin. The bones are also removed and taken away. Sometimes a hole is dug in the ground where these bones are kept for around three months or so, as the insects would feed on it, leading to a clean bone. The poacher visits the place after three months and takes those bones away. It is not any Tom, Dick and Harry’s job to be a poacher, as peeling off tiger’s skin is a process, which requires an expert.

Belinda Wright, Wildlife activists and Executive Director of WPSI said, ''Not everyone can be a poacher. It requires skill and experience. There are certain communities, which have passed on this skill from generation to generation.’’ The tribal groups in India are good at hunting down tigers. In fact, over a period of time, they have become experts. Poachers usually work on the periphery of tiger reserves and they sometimes seek the assistance of local people, who have knowledge about tigers and poaching.

Upamnyu even cites an example. “The tiger traders get hold of Mogya tribe in Ranthambore area, who are excellent hunters. The traders pay them around Rs 50,000 for one kill. After these tribesmen kill the tiger, they skin it and deliver.’’ One cannot fault Mogyas as well, for they do it out of compulsion. They do not have any employment. People residing near national parks are even deprived of grazing nearby, so their livelihood is not in good shape.

Tiger poaching is a very lucrative trade and when asked about the cost of tiger skin or the bones, Belinda refused to provide the details as it could encourage others to take up this profession. But, it is a known fact that traders are making mega bucks with this illegal trade.

''Most of these tiger traders are from Central India or from Majnu ka Tilla area of Delhi. Some of them are also from Haryana,'' said Dharmendra Khandal, Conservation Biologist with Tiger Watch, an NGO. There are instances when poachers do not comply with the demands of the traders citing strict officers and vigilant tiger monitoring. The poachers are aware of the risk, but they are smart in their functioning as well.

India is said to possess one of the strictest wildlife laws in the world. The forest departments are ill-equipped to handle poachers and imposing strict laws alone will not solve the problem. ''Our forest departments are neither well equipped nor trained to make and gather evidences against poachers and traders,'' said Upamanyu. Kaziranga National Park is said to house some of the most endangered species of India like one horn rhino, but still poachers with modern and sophisticated weapons attack there as well.  

The poachers and traders have become so modern that officials started using technology as well. After a number of tigers were killed in Panna Tiger Reserve at Madhya Pradesh in the past, some tigers were once again introduced, but only after installation of GPS on them to track their movement. There were some reports, which suggested that the poachers outfoxed the officials, as they hacked into the GPS system and tracked the tiger's location, but Belinda states that it was proved to be incorrect.

It is through the porous Indo-Nepal border and then the Nepal-China border that the body parts of tiger find its way to China. The Chinese deny about the illegal trade of various tiger parts from India. China have their own tiger farms, but their killing has been banned at present. Many claim that Indian wildlife tigers have a huge value in the market, hence it is in huge demand.

The future of tiger conservation looks very bleak in India. Wright aptly puts it across, ''the only hope for India to save tigers is if the world can persuade China to ban all kinds of trade of tiger products.''

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