Beauty and the Beasts
India’s tigers may be threatened by, of all things, rising demand for cosmetics. The growing market for talcum powder — widely used in lipsticks, eye shadows, deodorants, and other such products — is leading to the destruction of tiger habitat by illegal mining operations that sell talc to international cosmetics companies, including Revlon, Johnson & Johnson, Avon, and Unilever. A wildlife sanctuary and a tiger reserve in the Indian state of Rajasthan provide critical habitat for the endangered cats and are supposed to be off-limits to development, but miners have infiltrated the areas. They chop down expanses of trees, blast holes in the ground with dynamite, use mining techniques that lower water tables, and leave behind huge piles of waste. Experts say this mining now poses the gravest threat to tigers, which once numbered about 20,000 in India but have dwindled to some 3,000. “If we don’t do something to stop this, our tiger population has little chance of reviving itself,” said Valmik Thapar, a tiger expert who has been involved in conservation efforts. A supreme court ruling has temporarily stopped some, though not all, of the mining, but the powerful mining industry is fighting that decision.