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Jungle Book Memories

Paul Murphy on the Raj pioneers who set in train thoughts of conservation in independent India.

India remains Asia's most important preserve for wildlife. However, there has been a drastic decline in the number of big game. It was in the late 1960s that Indians began ringing alarm bells over the disappearance of wild cats, elephants and rhino. Before the Second World War there were thought to be over 40,000 tigers. However, by the late 1970s tiger numbers were believed to have fallen as low as 1,800, poaching for international trade being the biggest problem.

The 1972 Wildlife Protection Act, instigated by Indira Gandhi's government, was the first serious attempt to tackle the crisis. A major effort since then has seen tiger numbers grow to more than 3,500, although the figures are disputed. Conservationists remain deeply pessimistic about the future of big game because of the profits for poachers. Elephant numbers have fallen to 20,000, and one-horned rhinos to only 1,900.

Poaching in jungles for big game is, of course, a world problem – and in May 1995, the Duke of Edinburgh, president of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, warned that something drastic needed to be done to curb the growing threat to wildlife. The catastrophe was caused by the combination of destruction of forests – essential habitat for big game – and uncontrolled poaching for exports of skins and bones. The problem was exacerbated by corruption which turned forests into playgrounds for poachers as those who were supposed to enforce laws succumbed to bribes.

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