May 24, 2005 — By Associated Press
NEW DELHI — Tigers of the Sunderbans Forest in eastern India can rest easy after a news report Monday said the state government is setting up an old age home for them.
The West Bengal state government plans to set up the sanctuary for old tigers who are no longer able to catch prey, The Telegraph newspaper said. Spread over 45 acres, the center will have a fresh water pond, mangroves, deer and other animals for the tigers to prey on, it said.
A census last year in the forest bordering Bangladesh found more than 270 tigers roaming the swampy jungles.
"We have drawn plans for the tiger rescue center and they are being finalized," the daily quoted R. K. Tripathi, principal secretary of the state forest department, as saying.
Tigers are unable to catch prey when they grow old and often enter villages to hunt cattle and even attack people. Mother tigers in search of food for their cubs may also stray into villages, said Pradeep Vyas, the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve field director.
The decision to set up the sanctuary comes as the Indian government is facing criticism over news reports that all 16-18 tigers at the Sariska reserve in western India had been killed by poachers. Tigers are slowly disappearing from other forests and reserves as well.
Last month, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appointed a task force of wildlife experts to stop poaching of the big cat.
Conservationists say official estimates that 3,500 to 3,700 tigers remain in the wild in India are grossly exaggerated. The government will carry out a census of tigers across the country beginning in November and involving independent experts.
On Monday, the prime minister visited the Ranthambhore reserve, also in western India, to discuss ways to stop the poaching.
"All is not well with the way we are managing our national parks. Disappearance of tigers is a matter of national concern," Press Trust of India news agency quoted Singh as saying at a meeting with 20 wildlife officials and experts.
Experts identified population pressure, growing tourism and a shortage of properly trained forest guards as the main reasons for the dwindling tiger population.
The prime minister offered all possible help to preserve the tigers, including financial assistance and amendments to laws if needed.