The western Indian state of Maharashtra has issued new directives allowing forest rangers and guards to shoot poachers on sight in the state’s four tiger reserves, the Indian daily DNA reports. The officer will be immune from prosecution.The order was issued after two tigers and three leopards were found killed in the last few weeks.
“Killing poachers won’t be considered a crime and no case will be registered if the forest staff catch them in the act and open fire,” Forest Minister Patangrao Kadam told reporters, adding that a legal provision had been made to protect staff from “excesses by so-called human right activists.”
Forest officers have also been provided with more, better weapons, 100 vehicles, and additional funds to hire informants to track poachers, according to the Hindustan Times, allowing the officers to maintain a 24×7 vigil on the reserves.
The directive has actually been in place since 2002, when the department first armed its staffers for self-protection, according to The Times of India. But guards were still reluctant to fire their weapons because of being taken to court for human rights violations after firing their weapons. Another factor is lack of training: of 11,000 employees, only 1,000 field staffers know how to use guns.
India has about half of the world’s estimated 3,200 tigers (169 of them in Maharashtra, where Mumbai is) in dozens of wildlife reserves, according to the AP. But illegal poaching continues, with tiger parts sold on the black market for traditional Chinese medicine. Fourteen tigers were killed by poachers in India so far in 2012, eight of them in Maharashtra, the Wildlife Protection Society of India says.
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