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TWO great challenges of the 21st century - green energy and wildlife conservation - could have a symbiotic solution.

Michael McGuigan of the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, has suggested that combining solar power plants with nature reserves could tackle both problems. A sanctuary for 300 tigers, for example, would cover a patch of land about 50 kilometres across. Surrounding this with a 5-kilometre-wide ring of solar panels would create a power plant producing 60 gigawatts of electricity

Some of that power could be used to electrify nearby villages. That would reduce the need for rural populations to forage for firewood, removing a major source of conflict between wild animals and villagers.

Asir Johnsingh, an expert on tiger conservation and adviser for WWF based in Bangalore, India, agrees that where sanctuaries border villages and cultivated land, solar power plants would benefit the local population. For example, poor communities near the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu, India, are supplied with gas cylinders for their energy needs. "But gas may become expensive," he says.

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