Animal poachers in India can now be shot on sight, after lawmakers in the western state of Maharashtra passed legislation Wednesday to defend tigers, elephants, and other wildlife from attacks, the Times of India reported.
The state's forest guards should not be "booked for human rights violations when they have taken action against poachers," Maharashtra's Forest Minister Patangrao Kadam said Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.
There have been no cases of tiger poachers being shot or killed in Maharashtra, but guards have been charged in the past for shooting illegal loggers or fishermen, the state's chief wildlife warden S.W.H. Naqvi told the AP.
The state also announced plans to put more rangers and jeeps on patrol in the forest, and will offer secret payments to those who tip off officials about poachers and animal smugglers, according to the AP.
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So far this year, 14 tigers have been killed by poachers in India – one more than for all of 2011, according to the Wildlife Protection Society of India. Eight of those deaths occurred in Maharashtra, the AP reported.
India is home to about half of the world's estimated 3,200 tigers, in wildlife reserves accross the country, the Guardian reported, but the endangered animals are seriously threatened by illegal poaching.
"These poachers have lost all fear. They just go in and poach what they want because they know the risks are low," said Divyabhanusinh Chavda, the head of the World Wildlife Fund in India and a key member of the National Wildlife Board, the AP reported.
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Tigers are targeted because their parts (especially their bones, which Chinese texts say help promote healing and have anti-inflammatory properties) are prized in traditional Chinese medicine and turn large profits on the black market, but they are hardly the only animals poachers go after: Rhinos and elephants are hunted for their horns or tusks, and leopards are killed by villagers who fear they will attack their homes or livestock.