India celebrities add glitz to tiger conservation

Thu Feb 11, 2010 4:01am EST
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By Matthias Williams

NEW DELHI (Reuters Life!) - 1,411 -- that's the number on the lips of Indian celebrities fronting a new campaign to save tigers which was launched ahead of the Chinese lunar Year of the Tiger -- a time some conservationists fear will lead to a spike in demand for the endangered animal's body parts.

"Just 1,411 left. You can make a difference," is the message being broadcast on everything from TV adverts, Facebook and YouTube, in what organizers say is India's biggest ever campaign to conserve the dwindling numbers of its national animal.

Since January, the environmental group WWF India has spearheaded a public awareness campaign, led by the Indian cricket and football captains, which has received close to 100,000 pledges of support on its website.

Poaching and loss of habitat have caused tiger numbers to plunge from around 40,000 at the turn of the 20th century in India, a country with patchy environmental awareness and uneven local governance needed for an effective crackdown on poachers.

Conservation has not hitherto been seen as a big vote winner in India, where hundreds of millions live below the poverty line.

"The response has been overwhelming," Diwakar Sharma, Associate Director of the Species Conservation Program at WWF India, told Reuters.

"I hope some of this could be transferred into votes, and politicians realize that the public now wants tiger conservation across India, and the tiger conservation gets more focus throughout India."

India is a key player in efforts to boost the global tiger population, which numbers just a few thousand and some wildlife experts say could be extinct in 20 years.   Continued...

<p>A schoolboy holds a placard with a picture of a tiger during a demonstration to bring attention to the plight of the endangered animal in New Delhi July 28, 2009. REUTERS/Buddhika Weerasinghe</p>