Tigers flown by helicopter to reserve

July 7, 2008 7:15:52 AM PDT
In an unprecedented attempt to revive the tiger population in western India, authorities airlifted a female tiger to a national reserve Friday where it will join a male tiger delivered there last week.

The tigers were carried by Indian Air Force helicopters to Sariska Tiger Reserve in the western state of Rajasthan, whose entire tiger population has been wiped out by poachers during the last decade.

Poaching and a vanishing habitat have savaged Indian tigers, which were believed to number in the tens of thousands a century ago. The tiger population has dropped from nearly 3,600 five years ago to about 1,400, according to the latest tiger census in February.

Environmentalists hailed the airlifting of the tigers from Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, one of India's most popular places for tourists to see tigers, to Sariska.

"The killing off of the entire population in Sariska was devastating, but we hope the reintroduction of the species in this reserve will spawn a new population and ultimately expand the region where tigers can grow and flourish," Sybille Klenzendorf, director of the WWF's Species Conservation Program, said in a statement.

The male tiger was airlifted to Sariska last Saturday and is doing well, said R.N. Mehrotra, chief wildlife warden of Rajasthan.

Both tigers were outfitted with radio collars so wildlife authorities can monitor them in the reserve.

The move was carried out by state and federal authorities together with the Wildlife Institute of India, the National Tiger Conservation Authority, and the WWF.

If their introduction to Sariska goes well, authorities will consider bringing more tigers there, Mehrotra said.

The government has proposed the creation of a Tiger Protection Force that would combat poachers. While the special force is not yet in place, Mehrotra said wildlife officials would do their best to protect the new tigers in Sariska.

"Tiger numbers are dwindling at an alarming rate and it is imperative we take action now to keep them from disappearing altogether," Klenzendorf said.