India to spend $150 million to save tigers

NEW DELHI Wed Jan 30, 2008 1:46pm GMT

A tigress carries her cub at a zoological park in the northeastern Indian city of Guwahati, October 24, 2007. REUTERS/Utpal Baruah

A tigress carries her cub at a zoological park in the northeastern Indian city of Guwahati, October 24, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Utpal Baruah

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India will spend an estimated 6 billion rupees ($150 million) over the next five years in an attempt to save its endangered tigers, the cabinet said on Wednesday.

The number of tigers in India has plummeted to between 1,300 to 1,500 from about 40,000 a century ago, according to provisional government survey results, as humans either kill them for their body parts or encroach on their habitat.

India's tiger conservation authority had a budget of only 1.5 billion rupees for the previous five years.

"It's a big jump which shows the government has given much importance to the issue of conserving tigers," said Rajesh Gopal, head of India's National Tiger Conservation Authority.

"If the pressures on tigers are reduced then the animal numbers can recover readily."

Some of the new money will be spent on shifting villages and tribal communities away from tiger habitats, according to a statement issued by the cabinet.

"One particular thing there's always been a lack of money for is moving people," said Vivek Menon, the executive director of the Wildlife Trust of India, a conservation charity. "If the money is used for that purpose, then it is a good thing."

India will also establish eight new tiger reserves, the statement said.

Although conservationists welcome the extra resources, some critics say a lack of money has not been the only problem so much as bad management and outright corruption at some of India's tiger reserves.

In 2005, the government announced that there were no tigers left in Sariska Tiger Reserve, more than 30 years after it had set up Project Tiger, a national effort to protect the species.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; editing by Simon Denyer and Sanjeev Miglani)

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