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Road To Nowhere – Wildlife Conservation In India-1

Dr. A.J.T. Johnsingh reviews former Chief Wildlife Warden of Madhya Pradesh H.S. Pabla’s Road to Nowhere.

Book Details

Published by H.S. Pabla
Softcover, 136 pages,
Price: Rs. 369/-

India has a blurred vision for wildlife conservation. This is the accusation that H.S. Pabla, a retired forest officer with 35 years of experience, and retired Chief Wildlife Warden of Madhya Pradesh, makes in his book Road to Nowhere. According to him, India wants self-sustaining populations of all large mammals in all Protected Areas at the cost of forest-dwelling people, who must stoically bear the losses caused by wild animals with no benefit from conservation.

Two major suggestions emerge from the book – one to significantly increase the influx and benefits of tourism by enlarging tourism zones and promoting low-impact ecotourism activities such as camping, trekking and bird watching. The second, and more controversial, the need for the provision to hunt crop-raiding animals and to develop this facility as a community-based sport hunting programme.

As the Chief Wildlife Warden of Madhya Pradesh, Pabla expanded the tourism zones contrary to the regulations imposed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, increased visitor fees and enhanced tourism revenue from Rs. four crores in 2006 to Rs. 20 crores in 2012. He forcefully argues that without this tourism money, the Madhya Pradesh Government could not have accomplished the reintroduction of tigers in Panna, gaur in Bandhavgarh, swamp deer in Satpura and blackbuck in Kanha. Undertaking these projects, he says, with only regular government funding, which is perpetually in an austerity mode, would have been impossible.

Pabla derives his ideas for wildlife conservation from the models of community-based conservation in Africa where local communities earn substantial income from wildlife tourism including hunting. He cites several examples where revenue generated by tourism has created thousands of jobs resulting in protection of habitat and wildlife in Africa. A shining example is the tourism-aided mountain gorilla Gorilla beringei beringei conservation programme in the Virunga massif spread across Rwanda, Uganda and Congo. Although threatened by problems such as habitat loss, disease and the bush meat trade, the gorilla population has now increased to 800 animals.

Pabla admits that the scope to promote and develop hunting of crop-raiding animals as community-based sport hunting is rather limited in India as the species available to hunt in crop lands are only the nilgai, blackbuck and wild pig. These species are not charismatic like the African elephant, buffalo or lion. Therefore much money can’t be raised by trophy hunting of these animals. To reduce the problems, he suggests a hunting programme be developed to benefit local communities. Agreeing with Pabla, I suggest sport hunting of man-eating leopards in Pauri Garhwal in Uttarakhand and immunocontraception of elephants where the population is beyond the carrying capacity of a degraded habitat.

Pabla gives the example of Pakistan where trophy hunting of markhor Capra falconeri, is promoted, based on the belief that exploitation prevents extinction. I would suggest that in India, one may think about promoting trophy hunting of a limited number of male ibex Capra ibex sibirica, a principal prey species of the snow leopard, as they have impressive horns. The takin Budorcas taxicolor is regularly hunted by snaring, using guns and rifles by the tribals in Arunachal Pradesh without any regulation. The takin can attract adventurous foreign hunters as hunting in the mountainous region is challenging and hunters may be willing to pay even half-a-million dollars to shoot a male! In theory, this money can be used for the welfare of the tribals and to protect the entire spectrum of wildlife in the fascinating mountain state.

Pabla opines that there is no need to oppose hunting on religious and cultural grounds as even Lord Rama and his family were hunters and ate meat regularly. He believes that wildlife can be the backbone of the rural economy if managed with a clear vision. He supports this view with numerous references to try to convince the Indian conservation community that wildlife should be used as a natural resource so that both, the economically disadvantaged people of India and wildlife need not struggle to survive. Even if we were to consider these as viable suggestions, given the amount of corruption in the country, I am not sure whether the benefits of such programmes will ever reach the tribals. Tourism, itself, cannot be increased in more than 20 per cent of the core area of tiger reserves. Although Pabla’s optimism is misplaced, the book is worth reading and discussing.

Editor’s Note: Sanctuary strongly disagrees with the proposition that hunting can be a conservation tool in India. Even regular tourism is proving to be a difficult problem to solve, basically because forest officials neither have the resources, nor the ability to deal either with the issue of corruption, or with powerful rule-breakers, including politicians and influential businessmen (the most likely shikar customers) who routinely ride rough shod over diligent officials. The author is also considerably behind the times. In Africa, the model that is being placed on a pedestal, official hunting of elephants and lions, to name just two, is being identified as having fuelled the market demand for endangered species, whose numbers have consequently plummeted in Africa to disastrous levels in recent years.

First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXV No. 12, April 2016.

 
 
 

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