Brought together by a common interest in protecting India’s last remaining wildernesses, WildCat-C is changing the facing of conservation in Chikmagalur.
With a lengthy list of successes to their name, the Wildlife Conservation Action Team of Chikmagalur, also called WildCat-C, is one of the most effective groups of wildlife defenders in the country. In 2004, they filed a case against a proposal to set up windmills along the sensitive Mullaiahanagiri mountain range, which is the highest mountain range in Karnataka and falls in the eco-sensitive Western Ghats, precariously close to the Bhadra Tiger Reserve. They were able to move the courts in their favour and the project was shelved as was a proposal in 2005 to set up a large tourism complex in the same region. In 2006, the group pushed hard for mining to be stopped in Kemmangundi within the tiger reserve. After a long battle, they were successful in winning public support against the mining companies and Kemmangundi was saved. They also played a crucial role in halting mining activities in Kudremukh in 2005 and once again in 2006, when Kudremukh was threatened by the Upper Bhadra dam project.
The organisation’s vision is simple – to protect forests and the rights of local people – and this is reflected in all their work. Between 1998 and 2003, they assisted in the voluntary resettlement of 457 families from inside the Bhadra Tiger Reserve. In 2011, they were successful in having Basur Kaval, home to blackbuck and Indian wolves, declared as a Community Conservation Reserve.
To meet their goals, WildCat-C works closely with the Forest Department, local communities and tourists. They are quick to lend a hand to the Department during surveys and conflicts with villagers and also help conduct patrolling activities in the park. Fire-fighting and data collection on wildlife and illegal activities are key aspects of their work with the Department. Workshops and sessions are frequently held with locals and the group leads camps and nature trails for visitors to the park. Every year, 150-200 nature trails and at least 10 camps are conducted by the group. To engage with children in the region, they organise Wildlife Week celebrations, drawing competitions, quizzes and other edutainment activities in schools and colleges. Film screenings and talks by eminent personalities are frequently organised for the public to spread awareness.
However, there is still much to be done and nature conservation is an on-going struggle. Along with their current activities, they have identified three major issues they are going to be working on. The Hebbe Halla, a major tributary of the Bhadra river that flows through the Bhadra Tiger Reserve is scheduled for diversion – a move the organisation has steadfastly opposed. They are also working on formulating a Greater Bhadra conservation management plan that will focus on improving existing protection mechanisms, promoting and enabling community conservation and bringing larger areas under the Protected Area network. Unchecked tourism, a major problem in Bhadra, is their focus – they will be working to minimise the impact of tourists within the park and the implementation of eco-tourism policies that will ensure that wildlife and locals benefit from the large number of tourists visiting the park.
From a small group of concerned individuals, WildCat-C has steadily grown into a strong protection force for Chikmagalur. They have ensured that their work encompasses all the stakeholders.
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXII, No. 1, Februaryl 2012.