India village in Rajasthan relocates to protect tigers

Tiger (Image: AP) India's tiger numbers have shrunk from 100,000 to 1,700 in a little over a century

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An entire village has been relocated in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan to protect tigers, officials say.

More than 350 people from 82 families in Umri village, in the Sariska tiger reserve, moved to a new location.

The number of tigers in Sariska had dwindled to zero before growing to five over the last three years.

Tiger numbers have shrunk alarmingly in India in recent decades. A 2011 census counted about 1,700 tigers in the wild.

A century ago there were estimated to be 100,000 tigers in India.

Compensation

Umri is the second village in Sariska to be relocated to help secure a proper habitat for tigers to increase their numbers. The villagers moved last week.

There are 11 villages with a population of nearly 2,500 people located in the heart of the tiger reserve which need to be relocated to improve the habitat, Rajasthan's chief conservator of forests, PS Somasekhar, told the BBC.

People living in these villages mostly belong to pastoral tribes.

Mr Somasekhar said efforts were being made to relocate four more villages over the next few years.

"It is a long-drawn process because the villagers have to agree to move out. We can't force them to leave. We can only persuade," he said.

The villagers are compensated with land, cash and livestock worth up to 1 million rupees ($20,000) and relocated to the nearest cultivable plots outside the reserve, Rajasthan's chief wildlife warden AC Chaubey told the BBC.

The number of tigers in the 886-sq-km Sariska reserve dropped to zero from a high of 16 in 2002.

"To maintain a reserve of this size, we need a minimum of 20 female tigers to help with the breeding and a viable population of 80 to 100 tigers," Mr Somasekhar said.

There have been a number of incidents involving conflicts between local villagers and tigers in the reserve - a few years ago, the villagers allegedly poisoned a tiger after it attacked one of their buffaloes.

India's most recent tiger census, held last year, indicated that numbers had increased to 1,706 from 1,411 at the last count in 2007.

Officials say conservation efforts by the government and wildlife organisations have helped tiger populations increase.

But poaching and conflicts between the tigers and people living in and on the periphery of the tiger reserves remains a threat.

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