At least half of India's Bengal tiger population has vanished in the last five years, according to the latest alarming census of the endangered predators. A Project Tiger conservationist blamed "poaching, and loss of quality habitat and prey," reports AFP. A 2002 survey estimated there were 3,700 tigers in India's reserves and forests, but the latest count found just 1,411.
"This is disastrous news, but comes as no surprise," said a conservationist. "Wildlife crime is so entrenched and we are not prepared for it." The Indian government is recruiting ex-soldiers for a tiger protection force, and experts say there is hope the big cats can be saved from annihilation. "The tiger population is capable of bouncing back," said one.