Cutting Edge Conservation
Against the backdrop of the larger battle against India’s quixotic tourism policies, some organisations such as ‘Tigress@Ghosri’ are helping wildlife habitats expand. The tigers seen on the right have found refuge in this conservancy located just outside the Tadoba Tiger Reserve. Are community conservancies the future of Indian conservation?
Why ‘cutting edge’?
The idea is best applied to farms that virtually touch the edges of biodiverse forests, creating true buffers rather than war zones, where both wildlife and people suffer. Had this process started decades ago in India, then like Kruger in South Africa and the Mara in Kenya, wildlife managers would have succeeded in working with communities to establish livelihoods that restored biodiversity, using tourism for sustenance. The plan would reduce human-animal conflict almost instantly, and in India it would bridge the ever-widening divide between human rights and wildlife activists.
Objective: Instead of fighting defensive, losing battles to save wildlife, the ‘ball pen dots’ that are our Protected Areas should be turned into ‘ink blots’ of biodiversity by converting farms to forests and marginal crop farmers into secure ecosystem farmers.
Strategy: Establishing functional Community Nature Conservancies that work as cooperatives. The concept has worked well in Africa (Punda Maria in Kruger, South Africa, and the Mara Triangle in Kenya) and in several other continents including South America. The Community Nature Conservancy strategy needs no biological ‘proof of concept’. Virtually all our existing reserves including Ranthambhore, Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Tadoba have been rejuvenated by turning marginal agricultural and patchwork forest lands to dense ecosystems.
Does it work? Yes, it does. Working examples dot the country. Harsh and Poonam Dhanwatey’s ‘tigress@ghosri’ a parcel of land lying outside the Tadoba Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra. Nirmal Kulkarni and his team at Wildernest, North Goa have rejuvenated 450 acres of partially mined forests into a tiger and king cobra forest. The central rationale is that protecting biodiversity ends up stabilising climate and, if professionally handled, benefits a very large number of land owners financially.
Modus operandi: 1. Draw up a site specific plan and discuss with community representatives on location. 2. Secure and then offer iron-clad guarantees of enhanced incomes (more than farming) for a minimum period of five years. 3. Choose wildlife tourism professionals willing to share revenues with communities on lands owned by them to put up small, but high value facilities on private lands OUTSIDE tiger reserves against payment per bed, per night (not profits, which are normally fudged). 4. Encourage existing lodges in popular wildlife destinations to work with communities to reconvert village farmlands by guaranteeing farmers more money from visitation to such lands than they can earn from farming. This will only work in landscapes where tigers, leopards, hyenas, civets and more are visible outside protected wildlife reserves. The task is to make such regenerated spaces visitor-friendly. 5. Ensure that government schemes such as NREGA, drought relief, flood relief and others actually reach communities, instead of being siphoned off by middle men. 6. Reach out to publicly-funded charitable trusts and foundations, the National Tiger Conservation Authority, State Wildlife Boards and the CAMPA authorities to channel funds to local communities. 7. The established Tiger Foundation for every tiger reserve must use its resources to pay the Community Conservancy out of their buffer zone protection budget. 8. Field biologists and sociologists need to monitor and be part of the design of the Community Conservancies to ensure that a) biodiversity returns b) people are adequately consulted and benefited. https://vipdubai.net
Win-win situation: The advantages of community conservancies include a) Dramatic reduction in man-animal conflicts. b) People are less likely to fall prey to poachers because they will generate income for themselves from the conservancies. c) Communities will benefit from revenues brought in by visitors, foundations will support conservancies, and public support will pour in because of the transparent objectives of biodiversity protection coupled with community welfare. e) People who patronise these conservancies would be able to access easily the in-gates of parks and visit tourist-accessible geographies within parks.
Red flag: How are such conservancies to be financed in the early stages? How do we ensure that the conservancies function without negative feedback from antagonistic officials, petty politicians or rich land holders? Is the plan implementable, given the trust deficit between park managers and local communities?
by Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXXII No. 4, August 2012