India's tigers make a big impression on President

  • @peterpopham

President Clinton finished his tour of India yesterday with the sight of two Royal Bengal tigers in the wild apparently seared into his brain.

Bill Clinton toured Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan on Thursday, and towards the end of the three-hour excursion the biggest male tiger in the reserve, nicknamed Bamburam, appeared at the side of the road, fresh from a deer kill. Later he also saw a tigress stalking a sambar deer.

Mr Clinton said the sightings were "among the most wonderful experiences of my life", and after meeting wildlife activists in the park he asked government environment officials to keep him informed about conservation efforts.

The visit was plainly still on his mind yesterday as he met information technology professionals in Hyderabad, the southern Indian city once celebrated for the Koh-i-noor diamond but now being rapidly transformed into India's hard-charging technopolis.

He told Hyderabad's computer whizzes - in case they were interested - that although he was glad to have seen the tigers, he was sad to learn that at least 20 of the endangered big cats had been poached in the past year. "The incomes of the people should be such that they do not have to resort to poaching animals," he said, "and instead [they should] wish to preserve their heritage, which includes animals, for posterity."

Mr Clinton travelled round Hyderabad in the presidential black Cadillac, air-freighted from Delhi the night before. In many other ways, too, he has been insulated on this five-day visit from the India that Indians know: every signpost, every building, practically every blade of grass on which his gaze might fall has been given several unaccustomed coats of paint.

Yet despite the careful insulation, he showed yesterday that he had grasped the essential conundrum of modern India when he told his aauduence in Hyderabad: "Getting people connected to fresh water is as important as getting connected to the Net." He added: "The information technology that is creating 25-year-old multi-millionaires should not be governed by higher profits but by higher purpose."

Visiting a hospital in the city yesterday, which was World TB day, Mr Clinton announced $5m (£3m) aid to India for projects to fight Aids and tuberculosis. He also said he had urged the US Congress to support a $1bn programme to develop vaccines to fight communicable diseases in the developing world.

Mr Clinton finished his Indian trip last night in Bombay. He was due to fly this morning to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, for a five-hour visit.