The sting: how traders in endangered tigers were trapped by a hotel pool

THE TRADE in endangered species is second only in value to the drugs trade, and is driving animals such as the tiger to extinction. There are fewer than 5,000 left in the wild, more than half in India, down from 80,000 at the turn of the last century. Although population growth and development projects are eroding the tiger's habitat, poaching and the trade in tiger parts are what might push nature's supreme predator over the edge.

A major centre of this insidious trade is India, where traders operate out of the bazaars below the Red Fort in Old Delhi. The bazaar is an entrepot for the trade in all sorts of seriously endangered species. Tiger skins, especially, are hot property.

In Delhi a well-cured skin will fetch 100,000 rupees, about pounds 1,360. In Europe or Japan a good skin might fetch pounds 8,000. A 15kg tiger skeleton would fetch pounds 7,500 and, once ground down into powder for medicine - used in oriental medicine as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis - the value per kilo in Hong Kong, Tokyo or the Chinese communities of the US or Europe is 30 times the Delhi price.

India is proud of its Royal Bengal tigers, and there are local organisations that pursue illegal traders, with limited success. Although attempts to fight back against this trade are fraught with danger, there are those who have dedicated their lives to preventing the extinction of endangered species throughout the sub-continent.

Belinda Wright and Ashok Kumar, of the Wildlife Preservation Society of India, have gained legendary status in the fight against the illegal animal trade. Ms Wright, born and brought up in India, has photographed, filmed and saved tigers since childhood; Mr Kumar is a former business manager turned wildlife sleuth. Together they have carried out more than 180 operations against wildlife traders, with the stings frequently resulting in shoot-outs.

I came across this determined pair while filming for the BBC, following a team of investigators working for the charity, Care For The Wild. "Debbie" and "Chris", from the UK-based charity, and an Indian translator called Rohan had made contact with a group of traders in tiger skins, operating out of the basement of a Delhi bazaar.

During the encounter the traders, Moushim and his wife, Laxhmi, were talking of an immediate trade in 10 skins and promising more. Demand expressed in Delhi means more dead tigers supplied from the foothills of the Himalayas, the forests of Madhya Pradesh or the mangrove swamps along the Bangladesh border. To prevent the deaths of more animals, it was vital that the sting took place within days: here the experience of Belinda and Ashok would be invaluable.

A deal was arranged in my hotel room in central Delhi. The dealers arrived, sat by the swimming pool, offered a range of rare animals and departed, promising to return. When they did, both were arrested. A victory, but sadly it took 24 hours before the Delhi Wildlife Warden's investigators arrived to search the traders' warehouse. When they arrived, all the skins had been removed, along with hundreds of protected birds kept in a dark basement.

Moushim and Laxhmi are now on bail. Belinda and Ashok are optimistic that they will eventually go to jail - Moushim is wanted on 13 other wildlife offences. Judging by past experience, though, justice might not be done. Out of Belinda and Ashok's 180 cases they have obtained only one conviction. "Indian wildlife law is improving," they say optimistically. It has to, radically, if the tiger is to be saved.

`Chasing The Tiger' will be screened on BBC1 at 10pm on Tuesday, 6 April.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before