Telegraph – Why the tiger’s future is far from bright. By Peter Foster (India correspondent)

A decade of administrative neglect – 40 per cent of Indian forest guard positions are currently vacant – and years of forest administrators cooking the books to cover up poaching losses and the endless encroachment of villages on to protected land, have put the tiger into irreversible decline.

Is it really too late? Probably, even though it seems at least that India’s government has finally woken up to the crisis being faced by its national animal. …

The fear among India’s conservation community, based on the bitter experience of the past decade, is that all the new bureaux, authorities and central government directives will turn out to be paper tigers, not real ones. The reasons are twofold.

Since Mrs Gandhi’s day, the population of India has doubled from 560 million in 1972 to 1.1 billion today. In another 35 years, that figure will be 1.5 billion. Put simply, there just isn’t enough forest – the tiger’s natural habitat – to go around. For most of India’s rural poor, every day is a battle to survive. Competition for resources – land, water, forest – is intense and will only become more so. …

The second major reason for gloom is political. While Indira Gandhi was a political demi-god, commanding vast electoral majorities and unquestionable authority, Mr Singh’s position at the head of a minority coalition is altogether more mortal. Modern Indian politics is increasingly factionalised, with regional king-makers draining power from the centre every day.

Nice. Not even the Democrats turned the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument against Bush when he signed it, an area about the size of California, into the largest marine protected area in the world. Who knew there were politicians out there more destructively childish than our own?

The truth is that, for all the brave talk of saving India’s national animal, whether by politicians in New Delhi or by conservationists around the world, the plight of the tiger holds little sway in the places where it actually lives.

No Indian politician ever won re-election by saving a tiger. And while reserves do bring in tourist dollars, far too much of that money disappears into the pockets of the big hotel chains and the local political elite. For tribal people, scratching a living on the land, there is all too little reason to turn down the poacher’s shilling.