We must depoliticise the Panthera tigris and save it from extinction
If you think saving Tigers is some elitist idea, think again. The survival of Homo Sapien and Panthera Tigris is more intertwined than you might believe; from our water catchments, to the areas that produce oxygen for us to breathe, are the home range of the royal Bengal tiger. Destroy them, and you’re on borrowed time yourself.
“Set a goal of 10,000 tigers in the wild by 2050” roared Boris Johnson, in a column while on safari in Ranthambhore recently. Radical? Perhaps. But radical measures are required to save Panthera tigris from extinction. A radical shift in the mindsets of politicians, bureaucrats, scientists and conservationists, who are increasingly at loggerheads, each believing that only he knows how best to save our national animal.
The petty politics over Panthera tigris is today perhaps as perilous a threat to its survival as poaching and loss of habitat that have driven the tiger to near extinction in India. Be it undermining each other, being vehemently intolerant of counter opinions, and, at an extreme, even alleged official persecution, have completely distracted from the wildlife conservation effort in our country.
The otherwise soft-spoken and much respected conservation biologist, Dr. Raghu Chundawat, has come out all guns blazing in his new book, The Rise and Fall of the Emerald Tigers. Chundawat not only conducted the longest scientific research programme on tigers in Panna National Park, but alerted the reserve’s management of the disappearance of tigers he was studying in the early 2000s. Instead of being proactive and working together to investigate his findings, the officials in charge of the park turned hostile. They wanted not just to brush the bad news under the carpet, but worse, silence the scientist. Scarily, Dr. Chundawat is not alone. There have been numerous reports of similar victimisation from across India over the years — seldom publicised out of fear of retribution — dealing a demoralising blow to private as well as public initiatives in and around our protected areas. Unlike many in the wildlife conservation community, Chundawat has packed quite a punch, describing in some detail, his ordeal at the hands of the powers that be: from threats both veiled and blatant, searches by the state CID, and much more, that eventually culminated in the termination of his critical research program. A loss not just for Panna and its tigers, but for conservation.
However, amid this gloom, there has been an unprecedented and successful experiment with inclusive conservation in Rajasthan. Politicians, the bureaucracy, the forest department, NGOs, independent conservationists, and, surprisingly, even those involved in wildlife tourism have been brought together to work for the greater good. This innovative approach was only possible due to that pivotal ingredient in the conservation process: political will at the very top. In the past few years, the greater Ranthambhore landscape has seen a remarkable resurgence, recording the highest density and number of tigers in its history. The pathbreaking Village Wildlife Volunteers programme, run by the dynamic Dr Dharmendra Khandal, has provided yeoman service by integrating and involving local communities in the protection of wildlife — working in tandem with the park authorities in many areas including anti-poaching. Parallel to all this, the national park achieved the highest revenue from tourism compared to all of India’s parks, a staggering Rs 34 crore in the last financial year alone. Of course, here too, naysayers and frustrated have beens have decried this astonishing turnaround as a commercialisation of wildlife, instead of joining hands to aid the process. Some have even instigated frivolous PILs. Such negative hogwash only highlights a bankruptcy of fresh ideas, the success of the all-inclusive Ranthambhore Model should not be allowed to be derailed. In fact, other states would benefit immensely by adopting it. A win-win for wildlife, local communities, and the country.
Where do we go from here? If ‘Team Tiger’ — and, by that, I mean anyone involved, committed or even interested in conservation — are going to continue to spar among themselves to satisfy their egos, cover up uncomfortable truths, and do their best to superciliously exclude one another, they will only be scoring self goals, and it will be game over. Conservation is not anyone’s exclusive preserve; the time for inclusive and innovative, apolitical and affirmative action is now. This game allows no extra time.
If you think saving tigers is some elitist idea, think again. The survival of Homo Sapiens and Panthera tigris is more intertwined than you might believe; from our water catchments, to the areas that produce oxygen for us to breathe, are the home range of the royal Bengal tiger. Destroy them, and you’re on borrowed time yourself.
So, let’s begin with depoliticising Panthera tigris. And, while we are at it, why not set a national target of 5,000 tigers in India by 2030?
Jaisal Singh is an author, conservationist and entrepreneur
The views expressed are personal