An answer to the now deafening call of tiger vulnerability and poaching, the Save Our Tigers campaign represents common ground between all groups of Indian society and the economy. An Aircel-NDTV initiative, knowledge-driven by Sanctuary Asia and implemented by Hemendra Kothari’s Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT), the Tigerthon lasted 12 full hours on July 15, 2012 and collected over a million dollars by day’s end.
NDTV’s Chairman, Dr. Prannoy Roy said: “We at NDTV are delighted to see the remarkable response to the Save Our Tigers campaign. Generous contributions from people across the country reflect how sensitive they are towards the cause and we strongly believe that the funds generated through the telethon will bring visible results in preventing tiger poaching.”
With Ranthambhore as the nerve centre, the Tigerthon involved people from across the country in hubs that were especially set up in the Nehru Science Centre, Mumbai, the National Museum of Natural History, Delhi, and the Dastkar Community Centre just outside the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. Here, activists joined hands with experts, politicians, celebrity campaign ambassadors, volunteers, and school children, and they together made the initiative a roaring success.
At the heart of the purpose of all involved was the pressing need to convey to the citizens of India that saving the tiger is not a ‘favour’ done to nature, but rather an investment in safeguarding the climate, water, social and economic security of over a billion people living on the Indian subcontinent.
The over 500 children who gathered at each hub were spotlit as the legitimate heirs to the natural heritage of India and they reminded all adults gathered of this fact, politely, but firmly. This they did through exhibits, art, dance, theatre, music and oratory of a high order. Looking on and supporting these children were Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, NDTV’s CEO and key anchor Vikram Chandra, and Dr. Prannoy Roy. These three individuals kept the momentum of the show going for a marathon 12 hours without a break, engaging a veritable host of participants, including Sandip Das, Aircel, Hemendra Kothari, Valmik Thapar, Belinda Wright, Wildlife Protection Society of India, and Ravi Singh, WWF-India in discussion and debate.
The entire nation is behind the tiger
Meanwhile, the Tigerthon pulled together an amazing amount of support from the most unexpected places. A flashmob turned up to support the tiger in the middle of a busy mall in Delhi. Sanctuary Asia organised a live art demonstration that resulted in the auction of an 5’x8’ canvas painted by the famous M.D. Parashar, which Saffron Art sold for Rs. 4.8 lakhs… all of which was donated to the Save Our Tigers Campaign. A host of singers and musicians added to the atmosphere and the whole amalgam came together as a wake-up call for politicians, developers and economists who were delivered a simple message: “The tiger is a metaphor for life itself and its survival is a non-negotiable demand.”
The one person who was a driving force for the entire NDTV-Aircel Tigerthon was Hemendra Kothari, Chairman of the WCT. Speaking on camera and on the sidelines of the Tigerthon, he said to Sanctuary: “I am a banker and I know the financial world will support such an appeal to save the tiger. Our job is to effectively reach out to the hearts and minds of India’s corporate leaders and then ask them to reach for their cheque books to support the campaign.” Leading from the front, he announced at the very early stages of the Tigerthon that he was donating Rs. 2.5 crores of his personal money on the spot. This triggered a wave of corporate support with money pouring in from different quarters, including many that hold the Chairman in high regard.
When he saw the offers come in (Rs. 25 lakhs each from Swati and Ajay Piramal, Exide Industries India, Nemish Shah and Tata Consultancy Services; Hemendra Kothari said: “We [the Wildlife Conservation Trust] are now in 41 national parks and reserves, assisting them. Here we are working to supplement the much larger resources that the central and state governments are putting into wildlife protection. Next year, I hope we can dramatically enhance the amount we collect for the vital purpose of protecting our national animal, whose forests are critical to India’s food, water and climate security. We must ensure that we offer our forest staff better facilities and the best training.”
Dr. Anish Andheria, who heads WCT, then went on to explain that the money collected would go towards the establishment of Tiger Defence Units in tiger reserves across the nation. This would include fortification of existing APCs (Anti-Poaching Camps), deployment of RRUs (Rapid Response Units), specially designed conflict resolution vehicles, training of frontline field staff and supporting credible NGOs working directly in the field to protect tigers. He added: “Every rupee donated will be put to use without one rupee being used to meet any overheads, or internal WCT costs.”
The Tigerthon, representing just 12 hours out of the 8,766 that we spend in a year, had a colossal impact.
Support is still pouring in as Sanctuary goes to press. Corporates are donating more. Forest officials say they are gratified to be recognised. Kids say they will be dogged in their persistence and will remind all the five Chief Ministers who made major commitments about their promise to save the tiger.
Sandip Das, CEO, Maxis Communications and Director, Aircel, said it all when he announced on camera that: “The tiger symbolises everything we stand for as a country. The Save Our Tigers campaign concerns not only the issues impacting our national animal but our environment and people too.”
Tiger Defense Units
In Phase-I of the Save Our Tigers Campaign, WCT has made a humble effort of conceptualising, designing and providing the Rapid Response Unit (RRU), a conflict resolution vehicle, to 30 tiger reserves across India with the help of generous donations from the citizens of India. In Phase-II, the campaign moves one step closer to assisting the creation of the ‘Tiger Defense Units’ (TDUs) in important tiger reserves across India.
A TDU will constitute the following components: RRUs – conflict resolution vehicles, equipment for anti-poaching camps in core and buffer zones of tiger reserves, training of frontline protection staff and collaboration with credible NGOs to create a network of people among the local community to safeguard the interest of the tiger around the tiger reserve and designing specialised ‘Fire Fighting Engines’ using 4WD truck with a capacity of 30,000 litres to combat forest fire in fire-prone tiger reserves.
Published in Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXXII No. 4, August 2012