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Claws bared in war over saving the Indian tiger

Civil war broke out in the conservation camp yesterday when the world's largest environmental charity, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), was slated over its efforts to protect the tiger.

"WWF are fiddling while Rome burns," said Michael Day, founder and chairman of the Tiger Trust. Arraigning the Indian government along with WWF, Mr Day told a press conference in London that unless immediate action was taken to stop poaching, the Indian tiger would be wiped out in five years.

WWF, whose international president is the Duke of Edinburgh, was even accused of not wanting to save the tiger because a healthy population of the big cats would make it harder to alarm people into making donations.

Guy Marriott, a former fundraiser for WWF who is now a Tiger Trust employee, said saving the tiger would be "a marketing disaster" for the fund.

WWF reacted swiftly to defend its record, repudiating Mr Marriott's allegation and pointing out that Mr Day had a book to promote - his Fight the Tiger came out in paperback six weeks ago.

"This is not a responsible course of action for a committed conservationist to take," a WWF spokeswoman said. "The tiger remains in imminent danger of extinction because of poaching but this kind of thing can only damage the conservation effort."

The latest estimate by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world conservation body, put India's tiger population at between 2,500 and 3,750. Last year 73 tigers were known to have been killed by poachers but experts believe that the true figure could be five times as many. Mr Day claimed 500 tigers were slaughtered last year. "In spite of the vast amounts raised each year by the WWF exploiting the plight of the species, nothing is being done to physically protect the tigers from the poachers."

Mr Day, a former advertising executive who founded the Tiger Trust in 1992, said tagging tigers electronically and supplying more armed rangers would do more to stop the trade than trying to improve life for villagers so they would not be tempted to make money out of tigers. The Suffolk- based trust has an annual income of some pounds 230,000, nearly all from donations. In each of the past two years it has put more than pounds 40,000 into financing anti-poaching personnel to protect the Siberian tiger.

Repudiating Mr Day's accusations, set out in a report entitled The Big Cat Cover Up, WWF said it was spending pounds 2.2m on tiger-related conservation projects this year, including pounds 241,000 in India.

"There are no easy ways of solving the current poaching problems, just as there are no quick-fix solutions to stopping the illegal trade in arms and narcotics," it said. The fund has put particular effort into reducing demand for tiger products and is talking with Chinese pharmacists over alternatives to medicines whose ingredients include tiger-body parts.