Text: Sumit Bhattacharya
We are a nation that has failed to protect its national animal, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was told this year.
He was told there are only 1,200 to 1,400 tigers left in India. Poachers have been killing a tiger a day, mainly to feed the Chinese medicine market and for body parts. The tiger's habitat is shrinking.
We have known it for a while, with experts and conservationists screaming from rooftops that the last census in 2002 was history and there was a fraction left of the 3,642 tigers it said India had.
Maybe the country was too busy adding to its laundry list of achievements to listen.
"We were scoffed at, we were laughed at," says Valmik Thapar, whose documentaries and books have captured the Royal Bengal Tiger, the Indian tiger, in all its grace and gore and glory.
"Basically, we as a nation don't care," he says, pointing out that India did not have a Wildlife Crime Bureau -- it was mooted this year, the government is yet to find someone to head it, 11 years after every prime minister has okayed it -- despite trade in wildlife being the second-largest illegal trade, after narcotics.
"The prime minister did not know the Bureau was headless," adds Thapar, wryly. Key government posts for wildlife, he points out, lie vacant for years while India implements economic policies overnight.
"There is still a chance that the tiger -- the most charismatic animal on this planet -- can be saved, but we are fast running out of time," says Belinda Wright, conservationist, photographer and champion of the great cat.
"The tragedy is that we know what the problems are, and the solutions, but there is simply not the political or public will to turn the tide around for the beleaguered tiger," Wright adds.
Photograph: Hassan Ammar/AFP/Getty Images
Also read: At least one tiger is killed by poachers every day
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