Wild Life Management
By Maxwell Pereira
maxpk@vsnl.com


Following Himraj Dang’s recent book on “Sariska National Park”, I was invited to a brain storming session on the ‘mismanagement’ of our country’s forests and wildlife. This, aimed at building public opinion on the need to ensure the conservation of India's natural resources and its wilderness. There was urgency for rapid, equitable, and sustainable development, to 'deliver' higher levels of access to prosperity to the economically/ educationally disenfranchised tribals, those ‘below poverty line’ and the remote and marginalised.

The Prime Minister’s current personal interest for tigers, wildlife, nature and forest conservation, formed the backdrop. The significance of the Sariska book surfacing at a time of hue and cry over disappearance of tigers from this sanctuary, was not lost – even as the deliberators’ brains battled on Himraj’s concern over Government’s latest move to pass a Bill in Parliament to give land owning rights to exploitable tribals without addressing actually the real issue of ‘wildlife management’.

Veteran outdoor man Avinash Kohli put the matter in perspective, by meandering through developments since 1950 on the wild life scene in India. Evolution of its depletion commenced with the terai regions put to the plough, in pursuance of the country’s then foremost priority to fight famine and boost agriculture. This drove wildlife, including tigers, into mountainous forests and reserves.

Then the much needed Industry, with Agriculture, became the main themes for development. While India benefited from USA's PL-480 with new seeds, the forests, open areas and some waste lands got destroyed due to misguided import of commercial trees like Eucalyptus, destroying our eco-system and ‘foxing’ the Indian wild life. Crop protection guns freely issued to farmers to protect crops from wild animals - resulted in wiping out game, in addition to loss of habitat. This, despite 'Shikhar' being allowed technically only in earmarked blocks under a program earlier introduced by the British for their “rich man's sport”.

This indiscriminate game hunting was sought to be arrested in a new wave of socialism of 'do gooders' by 1972. The growing concern for wildlife conservation and protection, prompted the Tourism Department to get players in the field like Kohli’s ‘Indian Shikhar Outfitters’ to change the title to ‘Wild Life Outfitters’. A moratorium for five years on Tiger Hunts for Tourists was proposed, only to be revoked later to lure in tourism’s super rich. Kohli points a finger at Vidya Charan Shukla as responsible for this, as owner of “Allwyn Cooper and Tourism Department” that specialised then in inviting famous writers and hunters as guests, ostensibly to promote these programs abroad.

Then came Project Tiger with new experts from among the very same who had hunted tigers in their earlier avatar as Forest Officers. Suddenly all those famed hitherto for hunting and shooting became culprits under the newfound concern for wildlife - members of erstwhile 'princely families', the British and Indian officialdom, including army and other services, and rich Indians.

Urbanization, industrial development, agriculture and new roads were issues expectedly on an over drive. The concern over depletion of wildlife did not curb the loss of habitat due to the plough, or the draining of wet and waste lands by the eucalyptus. Instead, the core areas of National Parks where Project Tiger was initiated gradually became the only ones left for tigers, with Project authorities developing vested interests, becoming celebrated authors overnight, and refusing ‘outsiders’ including tourists (unless they were friends, of course) to visit for Tiger viewing, wanting not to ‘disturb’ precious wild life.

A new breed of Urban Society descended as protectors of wild life and brought in the concept of "preservation" with “no interference” – forgetting crucial ‘management’ and ‘conservation’. Also forgotten, the need to involve locals especially the farmers and the tribals of the area, in managing their ‘wildlife’. These white-collared dreamers with political patronage and their own beliefs in preservation, which ended up with a scenario of disappearing wildlife, is the very same now being tasked to carry on with their final wipe-out and annihilation, Kohli feels.

The world over, things have been different. We need to emulate success stories in wild life management by the main International centres of game development, like in North America, Africa, certain areas of Europe – where they have multiplied not only their own, but also the imported Indian wildlife, introduced in Texas and Hawaii in USA. To learn from the farmer-rancher in San Antonio who has given up cattle farming to take up game farming, to multiply animals by the thousands. To bring the concept of game management where the excess, deformed or old are culled and used as an economic resource. This ‘game’ to be treated as a sustainable economic resource, and the local farmer/ tribal who has a stake in its conservation and management, its major beneficiary.

Though professedly vegetarian, 69% of Indian population is non-vegetarian. If the Indian farmer becomes aware of the added income over his crops by ‘game management’ – with another say 25% increase in present earnings, he would jump to it. Tribals living on the periphery of forests should be the main wards to watch over wild life with proper training. The commercial benefit with prospect of job opportunities for their youth in this venture will make them ensure against poaching. This is happening not only in Africa, but even in Chitral, Pakistan for the Markhor.

The existing preservation policy has been a misnomer and a costly affair. This should be shed in favour of new methods employed to improve habitat rehabilitation, trans-location of game, and to make tribals and farmers part of the conservation program to treat wildlife as their economic resource – so that as beneficiaries they become guardians of wildlife.

900 words: 31.05.2005: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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