Friday, March 16, 2012

The Future if Indian Tigers and Asiatic Lions.

The Future if Indian Tigers and Asiatic Lions.
By Lavkumar Khachar

I have read and reread the earlier notes. It is always nice to read one's own writings I guess. Helps to clarify one's own thinking really and, in matters involving the environment and very specially the future of endangered biological forms clarity is of the utmost importance.  If I have given any impression of my contempt of the Forest Departments, let me very firmly state that I consider this Department a very crucial one: by whatever name we may call the cadre in charge of the wilderness areas and the wildlife in them, they have a very difficult task to perform. I have all along wanted a detailed white paper on the service conditions of the rank and file of Indian Foresters. As I had expressed once to three senior Conservators of Gujarat, "If I seem critical, it is because I hold your roles to be of great importance; should the Army lose some territory, it can always be taken back at some later date, but one species lost, or for that matter one mix of species disturbed and it would be impossible to recreate what is lost". This is why we all who care for the wildlife of India must stand behind them to a man, but at the same time, within the Department there has to be a continual awareness of their immense responsibility.  It is of the utmost importance that before any experiments are undertaken, the existing forests have got to be under levels of management that can stand the fullest of scrutiny.  It is not just a matter of lions or tigers, there is so much else at stake going all the way down to the number of months streams flow and the aquatic life in them.  While it is easy to criticize individuals and possibly the Department as a whole, one stops in ones track when the thought occurs: How would I have done things had I been in his shoes? While talking about the security of the lions and tigers, I have always wanted to know how secure the Beat Guards are. So, instead of "breaking new paths" as indeed this transfer of lions to Madhya Pradesh would seem, I want to see the absolute security of the men who would be breaking the new path. Unless the Wildlife Department considers itself an elite force, secure in the knowledge of the full backing of the Indian people, they will not be able to discharge their responsibilities. These men have a more difficult job than the Army; they have to deal with hostility from their own people and not to mention the nitpicking by men like myself of the NGO lobby.

I want full recognition of men like Murad and Ibrahim of the Gir and want to see similar men from elsewhere trained by them to follow the lions (and possibly the tigers) on foot before entrusting a single animal for the sake of scoring brownie points. Secondly, even at the risk of sounding very parochial, I want to be assured of the empathy for large predators among the communities surrounding Kuno as is found around the Gir. In this, let me state that I am not a Gujarati, but go one step further and claim to be a Kathiawadi. I have walked with these fine men on foot to eight feet of full grown lions and I have had a lion recognize me and growl at me while accepting the men in khaki next to me with total acceptance. I have again and again heard a "Maldhari" shrug his shoulders at a lion killing one of his buffalos with "lions too have to live…." I would like to emphasize in no uncertain terms that not only is the protection of wildlife important for the managers of a National Park, but also the generating of a powerful good will and the involvement of the communities around it.

If I sound full of praise for the men of Sorath (that is the region where the lions are mingling with people), let me prove my Indianness by stating that the finest day in my life was spent in Patna, Bihar. It was a day of absolutely unique experiences which unhappily I am not able to prove by showing photographs; to my eternal chagrin, I had not carried my camera thinking I was being shown round a zoo by the Director (incidentally form the Forest cadre) out of courtesy and frankly, I find Indian zoos quite depressing. The three hour tour ended with a memorable moment when I was taken into an enclosure and two fully grown tigers; a female and a larger male walked up to be stroked! Before this magnificent finale, I had hugged a lovely Clouded Leopard, and fondled a Leopard followed by a retriever sized White Tiger Cub rubbing against my legs like a magnified tabby cat!  And, what of the keepers? All wizened Bihari men wearing only dhotis that barely reached their knees! It was a privilege to see the love they had for their charges. Unhappily, I had to leave the next day for upcountry to attend a workshop and could not return. The Director who seemed to be providing great leadership informed me that he was expecting a promotion as Conservator and so would be transferred out. Zoos will have to play very important roles in developing scientific gene pools and in breeding highly endangered species. I am sure scientists should be able to manage animals in captivity so that they would in future be able to restock upgraded wilderness areas. From zoos, through huge safari park situations to the wilderness seems to be what the future holds if we indeed can hope ever to have, particularly the larger, wildlife increase in numbers and not survive in discrete pockets.

The time is now come when we in India cannot think in bits and pieces. We have to develop a vast vision in which not only the wildlife, but the human communities juxtaposition. As such, the Government Departments will have to develop a harmony of interfaces so that there is no friction. National Parks cannot be managed in isolation, the well fare of thousands of people depend on their proper management as is so apparent with the Gir in Saurashtra and the magnificent Bandhavgarh hills in north-east Madhya Pradesh. The Forest Departments cannot be marginalized…… they are very much our second line of defense as is being proved by developments in Jharkhand and adjoining States.

Conservation today is not merely scientific, it is emotive as well. Science can help, but emotions sustain. If the lions of Sorath (not Gujarat) are proving the point in the west, across to the east, the rhinos are doing the same in Assam. That Kaziranga has a very healthy population of tigers is thanks to the rhino.  Rhinos were introduced to Dudwa in Uttar Pradesh. What has come of the experiment?

As a young friend in quick anger commented to me "What if ten lions die? Gujarat has 400!" Every lion is precious as indeed is every tiger. Where were the scientists when the tigers of Siraska vanished? Why were they not in the forefront when three siblings were transferred from Ranthambhore?  Before any experiments are carried out, there has to be a strong scientific temper in the Forest Departments; after all is said and emotions - parochial or otherwise - cooled, it will not be scientists who will be managing the Kuno Lion Sanctuary nor for that matter will it be one of their children killed as was recently, a girl outside Bandhavgarh.
                                                                                                                                                        Lavkumar Khachar.

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