Calcutta Telegraph, India
March 18 2005

Sorry, no more wild gifts

New Delhi, March 17: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has decided to ban
the practice of gifting animals to heads of state or government or
foreign zoos.

The decision, announced by Singh while chairing a National Board for
Wildlife meeting today, is a big victory for members of the Born Free
Foundation who had recently written to the Prime Minister urging him
to ban what they called an inhuman practice.

Hollywood actors Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, who starred in
Born Free, had in the letter objected to the Indian government's move
to send a baby elephant from Banerghata sanctuary in Karnataka to

Pointing out that it was virtually impossible for the elephant to
survive in freezing temperatures, the foundation quoted statistics
showing how the practice invariably led to animals perishing in
foreign and inimical climates.

The ban was among several important decisions taken by Singh at the
meeting convened to discuss the recent tiger crisis caused by
largescale poaching and mismanagement of reserves.

Sources said the Prime Minister was critical of the functioning of
the Union environment ministry and its role in checking the
disappearance of big cats from sanctuaries.

The meeting began with an impassioned presentation from tiger
conservationist Valmik Thapar, who made a strong case for the
constitution of a task force on the status of tigers in wildlife
parks across the country and a separation of forests and wildlife
from the environment ministry.

The Prime Minister will head the proposed task force, which would
include forest officials, representatives of civil society and
wildlife experts. It would be asked give a report on the current
position of Project Tiger and on the status of tigers in wildlife
parks, said a PMO official.

Singh has also ordered a CBI probe into reports of tiger poaching in
Sariska in Rajasthan.

The wildlife board has decided to establish a National Wildlife Crime
Prevention and Control Bureau to crack down on rampant poaching in
parks such as Sariska and Ranthambore.