Criminals seeking to kill endangered and protected animals would be wise to stay away from the Maharashtra state in central-western India. The local government has decided to take extreme action to curb poaching with a controversial new policy – it’s announced that it will no longer be considered a crime to injure or kill suspected poachers.
Forest guards should not be “booked for human rights violations when they have taken action against poachers,” Maharashtra Forest Minister Patangrao Kadam said Tuesday to the Associated Press.
To further empower the fight against poaching, the new order also established a fund worth about five million rupees (USD $90,000) that will go toward secretly paying informers who supply tips about poachers and animal smugglers.
“We get very few tips, so this will really help,” Maharashtra’s chief wildlife warden, S.W.H. Naqvi, said to the AP.
Dozens of animals across India, including elephants, rhinos and especially tigers, are targeted for poaching. Many of the animals’ body parts are used in “traditional” Chinese medicine and sold on the black market.
The state will also send more jeeps and rangers into the forest where many tiger deaths occur. Poaching has recently increased in the country and elsewhere in the world. So far this year, 14 tigers have been poached in India whereas a total of 14 were killed for all of 2011, according to the Wildlife Protection Society of India. Eight of the tigers killed in 2012 were killed in Maharashtra.
Last week, one tiger body was found in the state chopped into pieces with its head and paws missing in Tadoba Tiger Reserve, where about 40 tigers live. Forest officials also found traps within the reserve.
The tiger is considered endangered with its habitat range shrinking more than 50 percent in the last quarter-century and its numbers have steadily declined since the 1990s.
Poachers have rarely been spotted in action. They generally hunt the big cats by night, according to Naqvi. He alluded that there would be few instances where rangers fire at suspected poachers. Poachers have been known to occasionally target cats when they drink from artificial watering holes during the day, however.
At this time, it is unknown whether other states or even countries will follow the example set by the government of Maharashtra. Poaching in the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh states has posed a challenge for forest officials in recent years as well. For example, the hunting of male elephants for their tusks has significantly impacted the sex ratio of the species’ population: there is now roughly one male elephant for every hundred females.
Watch IBN Live’s report on the order below with commentary from Kishore Rithe, a member of India’s National Board for Wildlife.