State in India halts research after tigers die


NEW DELHI, India -- Denouncing the role of research in wildlife conservation, the government in the southern state of Karnataka has closed an Indo-U.S. project using radio collars to study the behavior of tigers, leopards and wild dogs.

The project, which began last December in the Nagarhole National Park under the direction of Ulhas Karanth, a prominent wildlife researcher, was halted by officials in Karnataka after five tigers, including one that had been tranquilized for radio collaring and tracking, died from March to May this year at the park.

Three leopards also were tranquilized and collared, but no casualties were reported among them. Research officials said they had not collared any wild dogs when the project was closed.

"We were looking at the habits of three predators and nine large species of prey such as the sambar and barking deer, wild pig, monkeys and elephants," said Mr. Karanth.

He described the state government's move as "absolutely stupid, a rerun of what Galileo went through with those arguments about the world being flat."

A top government official in New Delhi said Mr. Karanth had been cleared of any wrongdoing in the tigers' deaths.

Environmental officials with the national government and Mr Karanth said in interviews that all the tigers had died of natural causes and that shutting down the project would harm wildlife conservation and research.

Experts say the nocturnal life of the tiger and other predators is scantily researched.

But the state government says it does not want researchers conducting such projects because of "alarm and suspicion among the public."

The issue is now before an Indian court at Bangalore, where the project's chief researcher has appealed for a stay against the government's decision.

The project is supported financially by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, among others.

The Karnataka government declared it was "convinced tha conducting research on wildlife is neither useful to the department nor helpful to the living conditions of the wildlife nor the lovers of wildlife."

The statement added that "hiring of services of private persons in the thick forest and conducting research on wildlife is dangerous and unnecessary."

Mr. Karanth and others said the tiger that died was 10 years old and had been severely injured in a fight shortly before it was tranquilized.

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