Photograph by Anish Andheria.
Anyone who has visited Maharashtra will agree that this is a land of stunning beauty and diversity. The state has mountains that rise out of the Arabian Sea; beaches that rival the best in the world; and forests populated by tigers, leopards, wild dogs, gaur, sambar, and a bewitching variety of birds and butterflies. The state’s diverse cultures, customs and mores have arisen from its varied ecosystems and biodiversity. The Warli people of the Sahyadri worship the tiger. Around their villages, tiger temples abound to propitiate Vaghadeva, their tiger god, to whom they attribute the very creation of the universe. Much of Maharashtra’s biodiversity is now protected by a network of six national parks and 41 wildlife sanctuaries. My government has added another 500 sq. km. of wildlife habitat to expand the current network of Protected Areas. While tiger numbers have declined elsewhere, here in Maharashtra, the tiger population has increased from 104 animals in the 2006 census, to 169 in 2010-11. The recent tiger census shows further growth to over 200 tigers in the state.
People in Vidarbha have taken pride in declaring Nagpur the ‘Tiger Capital’ of the world. Within a two-hour drive from Nagpur city, in almost any direction, one could conceivably come upon a tiger pugmark, from Tadoba in the south, Pench and Nagzira in the north, to Bor in the west.
Among the several visible symbols of the union of nature, culture and history in Maharashtra are the many medieval forts that enabled the great Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj to launch the Hindavi Swarajya, which ruled for over 150 years. Today, many such forts have been reclaimed by nature. Marine creatures including sharks, dolphins, turtles, fish, crabs, and birds, have found refuge in the environs and ramparts of the famous Sindhudurg fort, once the power behind Chattrapati Shivaji’s navy. In Vidarbha, the strategically-located Narnala fort in Akola is now part of the Melghat Tiger Reserve, where ornithologists and trekkers flock to enjoy the wild beauty of the Satpuda. A tigress with her cubs has taken up permanent residence in the fort.
Maharashtra’s wild heritage is held in sacred trust by us for our future generations. These forests, grasslands, wetlands and coasts are also critical to the water and food security of millions of Maharashtrians. The United Nations Framework for Climate Change has advised that protecting natural ecosystems is one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing the threat of a changing climate.
In Maharashtra, we have taken concrete steps to involve local communities in sharing benefits from eco-tourism and participating in conservation. We have strengthened Joint Forest Management committees to enable nearly 12,500 villages to sustainably harvest forest produce for their livelihood needs, while actively participating in protection. In Nagzira, Melghat and Tadoba, we have enabled local village communities to manage eco-tourism lodges and wildlife tours so that local people directly benefit from visitors. Around forts like Sinhagad, Rajmachi, Vishalgad, Rangana and Pargad, local forest protection communities have levied user fees on visitors and created jobs for local youth as guides. A sustainable model of conservation has been demonstrated by the villages of Sinhagad, as they have collected more than Rs. 1.7 crores from visitors without felling a single bamboo. They have created jobs for over 100 village youth and have reinvested this revenue in subsidising cooking gas and water-harvesting structures, while keeping Sinhagad free of litter. Ultimately, a very large number of landowners in local communities could greatly benefit from a return of biodiversity to their holdings through community based eco-tourism and conservancies. I believe that this natural wealth is an irreplaceable heritage that must be conserved for posterity.
This text was sent to us by the Honourable Chief Minister of Maharashtra for inclusion in Sanctuary’s best-selling publication Wild Maharashtra, which is available at all fine bookstores and online at www.sanctuaryasia.com.
Photograph by Satvasheela Prithviraj Chavan.
Anish Andheria, President, Wildlife Conservation Trust, writes a first-hand account of a tiger sighting that should leave all tigers in Maharashtra safer for some days to come.
The sun was low on the horizon when we saw the sub-adult tiger perched nonchalantly on a culvert. Delighted, we stopped the vehicle at a distance and began to take some photographs. As we prepared to leave, one, then another, and then yet another young tiger turned up to join the first. Moments later, their mother joined them as well! It was unbelievable. Before us were five tigers, unperturbed by our presence. “I feel humbled to be breathing the same air as these tigers. Hopefully, we will not let them down,” whispered the man who has probably done more to secure their future than anyone else in the past year. I was in the Tadoba Tiger Reserve, in the company of Prithviraj Chavan, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra and his wife Satvasheela Prithviraj Chavan, daughter of the late M. Y. Ghorpade, who was a wildlife legend.
In the vehicle, Praveen Pardeshi, Principal Forest Secretary, Maharashtra, and I exchanged happy glances. We had driven the length and breadth of Tadoba for over seven hours with the Chief Minister. He had come to Tadoba to see for himself the results of the steady stream of on-ground progress, which had resulted in Maharashtra being presented with Sanctuary Asia’s ‘Best Tiger State Award’ in 2012. The Chief Minister personally accepted the award on stage from his Excellency, the Governor of Maharashtra, K. Sankaranarayanan.
It is not often that one is given the opportunity to witness the soft side of individuals who occupy the senior-most positions in government. The tigers of Tadoba had woven their magic over their most powerful protector. I have every reason to believe that all tigers in Maharashtra will be the safer for this.
Author: Prithviraj Chavan, Chief Minister of Maharashtra, First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2, April 2013.