India launches first anti-poaching tiger protection force
The Indian government is taking steps to ensure that the Bengal tiger is around for future generations of those on tours through India to enjoy with the launch of a new specialised anti-poaching force.
Recent figures suggest that wild tiger numbers in India are on the increase thanks to conservation efforts by the government and wildlife organisations, with a 2011 census indicating an increase to 1,706 individuals, up from 1,411 at the last count in 2007.
However, with poaching still a major threat to the species, the country's first forest ranger unit charged specifically with preventing tiger poaching has gone into action.
Called the Special Tiger Protection Force, the 54-member unit will patrol tiger reserves in national parks straddling the borders of Karnataka, Tamil Nado and Kerala states in the south of India.
"The force is operational," Karnataka conservation official BK Singh confirmed to the BBC. "They will deal with poachers and hunters."
Formed by the forest and environment ministry on the recommendation of the National Tiger Conservation Authority and Karnataka authorities, the tiger protection forced has received specialist training in jungle survival and weapons use.
They have now been moved to the Bandipur and Nagarahole national parks, which have the highest number of tigers in India.
Karnataka state has about 300 tigers, followed by Madhya Pradesh in the north with 257.
A second tiger force will is also planned for the eastern state of Orissa.
The Bengal tiger is an animal synonymous with India and safari trips to spot the majestic animal in its natural habitat is a must for many of those on an overland adventure in the country.
However, with vast expanses of forest covering much of rural India, there is also the chance to spot other fascinating species, such as the Asian elephant and Indian rhinoceros.