Burma creates world's biggest reserve for threatened tiger

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The Independent Online

Burmese Tigers will soon be roaming a sanctuary as big as Belgium after the Rangoon junta approved the expansion of a government wildlife refuge.

Burmese Tigers will soon be roaming a sanctuary as big as Belgium after the Rangoon junta approved the expansion of a government wildlife refuge.

The zone in the Hukuang valley in the north of the country will constitute the world's biggest tiger reserve, large enough to support up to 1,000 of the threatened cats. With an extra 20,000 sq km, the area will stretch to the borders of Tibet and India.

Conservationists are heartened by the move, announced yesterday. They said the latest animal census by forestry officials counted fewer than 250 tigers in the region. Worldwide there are about 7,200, the conservation organisation WWF says.

The dwindling number of cats in Burma is blamed on poachers who sell tiger parts to suppliers for Chinese pharmacists. Tiger bones are sold as Chinese medicine, stacked in the bazaar alongside tiger skulls, tiger paws and higher value items, such as pelts or penises, said to have magical properties.

Tourists still buy tiger teeth or tiger claws as souvenirs. When meat and organs are sold at £100 per kilo, the gain from a single tiger is equal to 10 years' wages for poor villagers.

Alan Rabinowitz, director of the science and exploration programme at the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, who worked with Burmese authorities to set up a preliminary refuge three years ago, welcomed the decision. The extension will triple its size.

U Khin Maung Zaw, the director of conservation for Burma's forestry department, said that cash would be paid to villagers not to poach. He predicted a tiger population boom if there was enough vigilance at the sanctuary.

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