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Indian Authorities Relocate Village to Protect Tigers

Raja, an eight-year-old rescued Royal Bengal Tiger, rests inside South Kahayar Bari tiger rescue center at Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, about 160 km (99 miles) north of the eastern city of Siliguri, India, February 2010. (file photo)

In the northern Indian state of Rajasthan, authorities have relocated a village in the heart of a tiger reserve to protect the habitat of the tiger. It's the latest move aimed at protecting the big cat, which is fighting for survival.

The last of the 82 families in Umri village in the Sariska tiger sanctuary left their homes during the past week. They were given land or cash up to about $19,000.

Rajasthan state’s chief wildlife warden, A.C. Chaubey, said the relocation was no easy task.

“It requires persuasion. It requires convincing the people of the advantage they will get when they move out, and convincing the entire village at the same time is never an easy task,” said Chaubey.

The relocation of Umri village is part of attempts to revive the big cat in Sariska - where, in 2005, authorities and conservationists were dismayed to find that not a single tiger was left in the reserve. As alarm bells rang, authorities renewed efforts to save the dwindling species.

The tiger faces twin threats: poaching, and a shrinking habitat due to the presence of numerous villages inside and on the peripheries of wildlife sanctuaries across India.

Sariska, for example, has about 11 villages inside the core area of the sanctuary. They are made up of mostly pastoral tribes who have lived inside the jungle for centuries.

Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India says these poor villagers depend on the jungle for survival, which brings them into conflict with tigers.

“They need to collect firewood, and they also have a huge number of animals which need to graze - buffaloes, cows and goats. The tigers killed the domestic animals, and therefore it becomes a conflict issue, and they also destroy the habitat for the prey species of the tiger,” said Wright.

Umri is one of more than two dozen villages located inside or near Sariska that will be moved out. Similar efforts to relocate villages have begun in some other Indian sanctuaries, but the process is slow.

Despite the challenges, wildlife warden Chaubey said the benefits to the big cat are immense.

“It provides for the tiger unhindered, undisturbed area for movement.”

Efforts to protect the tiger’s habitat and save the animals from poaching appear to be paying off. A census last year showed the number of tigers in India has risen to 1,700, compared to 1,400 five years ago.

That has made conservationists like Wright more optimistic.

“There is still a fighting chance for tigers in India, that is for sure,” she said.

India is home to 50 percent of the world's tiger population. Experts say the survival of the big cat there will determine the future of the species.