More than fifteen thousand people have taken part in a mass protest in southern India, against the extension of a new reserve to protect tigers facing a very real threat of extinction.
The last count revealed that the number of Indian tigers has plummeted from around 40,000 at the beginning of last century to an all time low of just 1,411, largely due to dwindling habitats and the activities of poachers. Despite these depressing statistics, residents of India’s Chennai region are firmly against any further safeguards, fearing that they will lose their homes if an extension to the Mudumalai Wildlife sanctuary is given the green light.
In the third such protest since November 2008, representatives from all political parties, including the state’s ruling party, attended a mass rally, in spite of official assurances that no residents will be forced to leave their homes.
The protestors quote a study commissioned by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2006, which predicted that many thousands of poor villagers would need to be relocated to make way for a raft of new reserves intended to protect the tigers from poachers and smugglers. The villagers have also been exploited by poachers, who play on many villagers desperate poverty to keep them on their side.
According to Project Tiger field director, Rajeev Srivastava, “We have no intention to dislodge anyone from the buffer zone. In fact, people in this zone will be involved in the project as trackers and guides for eco-tourists to enhance their means of livelihood.”
It seems that supporters of further protection for the critically endangered species will have a real fight on their hands to persuade a largely uneducated and illiterate population that the extension may actually improve their prospects. Yet another example of the strong sentiments evoked when a pressing environmental issue encounters strong and vocal opposition by a mass movement genuinely concerned about a further deterioration in their already desperate economic situation.
Image Credit – digitalART via flickr.com on a Creative Commons license