India Declares Open Season on Tiger Poachers

LiveScience.com

The world's "most dangerous game" is on. A state in western India has given its forest rangers permission to shoot poachers on sight in an effort to curb poaching of tigers and other endangered wildlife.

Forest guards in the state of Maharashtra should not be "booked for human rights violations when they have taken action against poachers," Maharashtra Forest Minister Patangrao Kadam said Tuesday, the Associated Press reports. The state even plans to send more rangers and trucks into the forest, and will offer secret payments to informers who give tips about poachers and animal smugglers, Kadam said.

Although no tiger poachers have ever been shot in Maharashtra before, conservationists believe the threat could significantly deter wildlife criminals. A similar measure permitting guards to shoot poachers in Assam, a state in northeastern India, has facilitated the recovery of the local population of endangered one-horned rhinos.

India's wildlife reserves are home to half of the world's estimated 3,200 tigers, and though tiger hunting is banned there, illegal poaching remains a serious issue thanks to demand for tiger parts driven by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners. Fourteen tigers have been killed by poachers in India so far this year — one more than in all of 2011 — and eight of the poaching deaths occurred in Maharashtra.

"These poachers have lost all fear. They just go in and poach what they want because they know the risks are low," said Divyabhanusinh Chavda, who heads the World Wildlife Fund in India. In many of the country's reserves, guards are armed with little more than sticks.

Permission to kill poachers with impunity as well as the state's offer to pay informers could change the game.

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