Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Tiger Conservation: Rebuilding Our Ecosystems

As environmentalists warn us the 6th Mass Extinction is on the way. This is a certainty until unless we do something to stem the rot and put brakes on demise of many species.


There could be a vast cornucopia of  solutions but let us pay greater attention to what we have in hand...and that are the remaining ecosystems. The critical tiger habitats are limited in area but they are surrounded with badly fragmented and overused lands surviving under constant threat from human encroachment and biotic pressures. Subject to overgrazing by the livestock, they offer stiff competition to wilderness that prevails. In the periphery of tiger reserves they are called the buffer because this land is crucial for survival of the tiger in India. As a matter or practice or conservation technique we have to tackle each and every factor/element imperative or influential in the survival of the big cats in India.   

These core verdant lands are complete ecosystems albeit drastically reduced due to human activities. In India most of these areas come under the aegis of Project Tiger and are notified as tiger reserves. Also called protected areas they are a blessing for all life forms with beleaguered existence. The vital inviolate core offers a place for successful breeding for neglected life forms and protects them from ever expanding agriculture and marauding humans ways.     

Buffer zone management become crucial in the current circumstances of dire need. The viable lands where all life forms can live and flourish had been badly reduced due to urbanization, encroachment, agriculture and in some places commercial activities and manufacturing. The regulated ecotourism efforts in the buffer has proved to be beneficial and fetches revenue and keeps the areas under the scanner besides development initiatives for upkeep of the ecosystem. It provides employment to local labour, guides and drivers.  

In most of the buffer zones especially those surrounding the major tiger reserves protection is accorded. Patrolling is a means of according physical protection to these lands but the biotic pressure, culling of trees and encroachment by agricultural practises to some extent continues illegally.       

In the buffer limiting human population and limiting land occupancy (strictly) to the original inhabitants is an imperative and so is the need to discourage commercial activities therein. This sounds discriminatory but then we have to understand the right land use patterns taking these step would mean large area secured for the forests, grasslands and rivers the natural earthly phenomenons. We cannot put these lands to use for greed as well as for our economic survival because we have enough that is beyond repair - taken over by agriculture, settlements and manufacturing not forgetting the usurpation of forests due to reckless mining.   

Time has come for extensive in-situ conservation, and especially to rewild the areas with potential of regeneration like in the buffer zones with extensive plantation drives using the indigenous species. In order to ameliorate damage done we have to take some steps that could  redefine land use patterns in India. Limiting human populations and livestock - most of livestock is unproductive anyway - is a priority...if not complete trans location of people. This approach may be seen  as regressive or discriminatory but in later period this will help check climate change...turn it favourably for existence and continuation of life on Earth...and yes the ecosystem repair efforts will provide employment to the indigenous communities the right way. 

It would be unfair to say that protection offered and plantation drives are not being done by the present dispensation but this has to be done on larger scale. The departments can rarely influence the scale of activities required due to political and administrative constraints hence public pressure is required in circumstance like these.  

We have to learn to speak or express what we deem to be right in management of our wilderness and the Nation as whole. Sitting like mute will unfold the disaster in making with ferocity that will eventually destroy life on Earth. Time has come to tackle climate change seriously with full scale efforts. 

Plant few indigenous plants in your home that is the right way to begin.

Uday blogs on conservation and the environment. He is a freelance naturalist in India.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Tiger Conservation: Contingency History & Traffic

When the numbers fall and the home shrinks the extinction seems inevitable. Well that is what exactly has happened to the tiger in India. One after after another the misfortune arrived, always hunted but never in extreme in the ancient times the downfall came surprisingly in the modern times right between us. The clock has started ticking right in our life times..perhaps a bit earlier whence the Raj overcame us. 

Modern weapons, and the greed for timber and pure blood thirst were the reason for the big cats beleaguered state. The ball had started rolling, spinning out of control, and since then never come to a stop. Large scale tree felling and commercial plantation had started transforming unnaturally the profile of the carnivore's habitats all over the country. 

Those habitats today in perfect state of preservation remained so because of being out of reach or being privileged enough to gain the status of royal hunting preserves - the shikar gahs of the Maharajahs. Nevertheless hunting continued unexcerabated, in fact when the Raj ended and the Maharajahs began to lose hold the local big wigs duly took over to bring an end to a vermin and a vicious killer with haste. 

Hunting was the most indulged sport during the Raj with the rulers, noble man and Maharajahs joining in the spree. Tigers were the prized target, and many were killed with royal aplomb...beyond sustenance, mercilessly...and as one author put pregnant tigress, cubs and young all were slaughtered. The greatest decrease in the numbers was brought about by the bounty hunters during the Raj whence thousands of tigers and other predators were slaughtered mercilessly...cleansing the country of vermin for a few rupees in a decade.     

The unchecked human population implosion was another reason whence to meet hunger needs of the ever growing billions large scale tiger habitats were converted to fields. Commercial greed had never come to a halt and large scale clear felling for valuable timber continued unabated.  

As far as hunting is concerned the rot was stemmed whence in 1972 Wildlife Protection Act was legislated and Project Tiger came into picture. From one hundred thousand tigers the number had plummeted to 1400 or less. Horrendous! 

Just when we thought that the mayhem was over another menace surfaced and the system under the spell of recent success of Project Tiger was shell shocked. A poaching mechanism comprising of importers of animal parts (TCM) smugglers, some people of the department and small time but deadly hunters of yore was in the act surreptitiously.

Panna and Sariska were the eye openers whence all the tigers in the conservation units were poached. Thankfully it was not too late and intense protection of the big cats came into picture. Albeit such incidence are unlikely to happen thanks conservationists and wildlife managers and staff the leak continues. 

The poaching intent is for smuggling tiger parts to consumers of TCM etc in many countries. The nexus is deep and underground and continues to operate though actively pursued by the agencies and NGOs like  WPSI there seems to be no end. The emergence of recent trafficking reports carry a foreboding of doom. India ranks highest among the countries from where trafficking of tiger parts takes place. This is suggestive of a leak and calls for revamping our protection and intelligence gathering mechanism.     

Although body parts used for medicine is most lucrative the number of tiger skins seized every year is frighteningly high. All the most the figures of seizures are consistent every year which indicates a modus operandi which has not be stemmed. 

In spite of encouraging census figures of recent counting in India the dangers to our precious big cats looms large. How well will we be able to protect the dwindling species is a question that we should ask ourselves? Will constructive efforts and sound policies continue to fetch the species out of red? 

The pride of India needs National Support a strong political will and conservation management that up till now has been exhilarating.  In all National Endeavours public plays and important role we the people should do whatever we can to the Save The Tiger!
Uday freelances as naturalist/birder and loves to write on conservation.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Tiger Conservation: Unspoken Sentinels The Forest Guards

I remember long time back whence I was freelancing with TigerLand Resorts at Kanha National Park, I was assigned a group of school children from New Delhi. The group also included teachers from the DPS School who obviously were the caretakers for the tour. 

The tour comprised of safaris and lecture on wilderness, a sort of awareness campaign full of fun and interesting experience for the children. 

On the first night, the teachers refused to sleep in their rooms facing the jungle. Well the staff was instructed to sleep in the front of the doors and the matter was taken care. 

"We will be eaten by a tiger!"

Dead tired, I promised to discuss with them the next day. All I had to state next day was the fatalities, murders, road accidents, robberies. psychopaths, nuts, killers, fast cars, and blah blah dangers which they confronted daily or rather each given moment in the Metro.

"It is unlikely a tiger would kill you, if you sleep here in the room or venture out on foot everyday. The rural folks trudge into these forests for collecting wood every day without fear. The forest guards move alone in these forests to protect wildlife.

People die because of accidental encounters or due to deliberately impinging on the animal's private space. But these incidence are rare as a matter of fact very rare. You are  a thousand times safer here, so please all through your stay be at peace." They did!      

The true sentinels are the front line staff the forest guards, deputy rangers etc. They are the people who traverse or scour through the forests on foot looking for snares, traps, local goons, illegal minor forest produce collectors and yes sophisticated poachers and ultras. That is huge burden on two small feet and feeble body.

Forest Hut & Guards
In the deep confines of the forests they trudge on foot, bicycles and motor cycles. In the tiger land this would be an extreme adventure for most of us, not for the guards, they are on duty that needs extreme courage, sincerity and dedication. Coming across the tigers, other wild animals and reptiles is frequent, for some it may be on daily basis. But they are well versed with the ways of the wild and keep themselves safe.   

Whence we revel in the ever increasing tiger numbers these are the people who deserve the awards and the glory for successful tiger conservation in our country facing extreme odds, adversities of unparalleled nature whence compared with dwellers in the cities.  The threat is not from animals, the threat is from the intruding humans, poachers and the criminals etc. As stated above. 

The threat from animals is of a different nature head on charge is a rarity, they have to avoid accidental encounters the most at which the guards are good at. An odd aberrant behaviour may be the reason for a tiger killing a guard. Yes this does happen but once in a blue moon...but we humans are more likely to die of accidents, criminal charge or in an act of terrorism.

We especially the reporters should abstain from vilification of wild animals in case of a tragic encounters, we are no longer in their food chain and accidental killings should seen from a rational perspective. Habitual man killers are anyway incarcerated or killed.

Sometimes the forests guards have to face the wrath of the locals whence a big cat kills a man who has come too close. Yes most of such killings are in self defense whence a threatened tiger finds a man very close for comfort, or whence villagers try to snatch away the kill.        

Like our soldiers who face violence of the worst kind, the sentinels being discussed here also face threats to their lives...remember they are unarmed. In some of the tiger reserves the threat is from ultras while that from organized sophisticated poachers too is prevalent albeit not extensively in India. As a precaution the foresters move in a group or in company of another. But whence occasion arises they have to move alone.

The hard life of labour and constant patrolling -even in challenging weather day and night- is what our foot soldiers do in the tiger reserves keeping it safe so the wild animals thrive. They safe guard the ecosystem as whole. They also supervise small construction works like building dams, roads, waterholes and canals etc. The foresters are responsible for the safety and well being of the labourers who are involved in the construction works.

They are the virtual arms of the mechanism that keeps the reserves alive and kicking. Like the patrol elephants they keep an eye on the wild animals and the forests, and report to the higher officials or the camps nearby for assistance or attention.   

Most of the foresters live in the patrolling huts or fire watching camps deep inside the forests. For items of basic necessity they depend upon feeble supply chain mechanism or acquire it themselves whence they visit the small towns nearby.  They are always at beck and call of any emergent situation that arises in the deep confines of the forests.

Far away from emergency care and their families, they live in isolation but nevertheless fulfill their duties without fail. They are the stars of the conservation units and deserve appreciation and all benefits that can be possibly accorded to them.

Some of the foresters are excellent animal trackers and have an in depth understanding of animal behaviour. They are very good at recognizing the floral elements present in these biodiversity hubs. I have been interacting since many years with our front line warriors and never felt lack of resolve or spirit amongst them to protect the magnificent ecosystems that the country has inherited.

The forester's job involves multitasking for they can work as clerks, tourism supervisors, maintenance crew, as host for filmmakers and esteemed guests, and assist the veterinary staff whence the need arises.

Hail The Heros!!
Uday freelances as a naturalist and loves to write on tiger conservation and environmental issues.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Tiger Conservation: Urban Assault

Rising urbanization all over the World is seen as gauge in a positive perspective...a gleaming example of development . 

An article on UNDP website terms mega cities as centers of learning, culture and innovation. Besides this it surmises that these population silos are wealth/resource generators and productivity centers, and therefore of immense importance to human settlements connected with them. It also mentions that these silos boost holistic progress, look after the well being of the societies, address poverty, tackle pollution and create infrastructure.  This is UNDPs own view of urbanization which many may not agree.

Urban Ghetto

Chaotic Traffic

The Rat Race

This is a constricted perspective of human development indices because we do not seek more pliable alternatives. The article does mention the poor quality of urban development that creates economic disparities, pollution, furthers poverty, hardship, diseases, and most of them are environmental disasters. 

We all have realized this anomaly prevailing in the major cities bursting at seams due to overpopulation and unchecked migration from suburbs, smaller towns and now deep interiors. 

Yes we all know this  except the developers and those who reap huge benefits in terms of political agenda and the businesses amassing wealth. These are the privileged ones that unfortunately take to the helm and become city planners, developers, ruling politicians, esteemed citizens and active propagandists that never fail to advocate reckless urbanization at any costs.  

The fall out of urbanized ghettos is limited to their surroundings and to some extent to the neighbourhoods. 

Think carefully! 

In order to sustain one infrastructure another extended or connected is required...and then another till the network pathway leads to the deep interiors where our rural societies subsist  on bare minimum with rational utilization of natural resources, and where most of our tiger reserves or natural places are. 

The last leg is the micro urban center greatly susceptible to unplanned and unchecked development or linear development to be precise. It is these micro urban centers that eventually continue to expand haphazardly denuding and eventually swallowing the reserves.   

Over looked and accorded lesser importance our tiger reserves or other ecosystems are most susceptible to this developmental threat. The phenomenon is universal pan India and is rapid. 

In Project Tiger we have an ambitious tiger conservation program which is experiencing the day light at the moment...but the impending space constriction and environment degradation due to rapid development is going to hinder the progress in time to come. 

We are so enamored by modern development as we see in this World that we have forgotten to set limits and checks which are of utmost importance. Though the inviolate core areas are safe at the moment, the stress is on the buffer (surroundings) where stringent policy of protection and no commercial construction should be  well in place. The region surrounding the core faces huge biotic pressure from human intrusion and livestock, and the forests are nowhere secure with wood logging and sporadic poaching. The settlements here are subject to expansion and the agricultural practises old age with low yield. An alternative more environmental friendly alternative for agriculture should be looked for as soon as possibly. One solution is to promote non wood handicraft industry since some communities have proficient artisans. This is being done at many places but needs greater impetus.    

The vision of wildlife and humans subsisting in harmony living in the same space  is at best romantic and purely chimerical. This idea defies practicality in modern times with limited span of ravaged forests and grasslands. Some wild animals are too sensitive to thrive along with humans anyway. And then we know the ways of contemporary human society.   

At many tiger reserves due to peer pressure tigers move in the buffer, and some have become permanent residents. With sparse prey base, weak crown cover and increasing tiger population the problems are further compounded.

Munna Tiger With Kill _ Gopal Desai 

Meanwhile the urban assault continues relentlessly with no possibility of stoppage. This is a challenge that wildlife managers and the field staff will face till some mitigating measures are put in place.

Uday freelances as a naturalist and loves to write on tiger conservation and environmental issues.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Importance of and Understanding Niche Formations in an Ecosystem.

Tiger reserves or National Parks everywhere are complex ecosystems with a simple overview. Writers or wild lifers in India describe the reserves as comprising of type of forests, grasslands, dominating Sal or teak and the water formations in form of water holes, streams and rivulets all woven together.

A simple overview that makes us look through these writer's prism forgetting the immense complexity of ecosystems which include niche habitats or rather micro habitats. The neglect would mean loss of biodiversity both in flora and fauna. 

Pandanus or Kewra Break at Bandhavgarh
Hence the ecosystems also comprise of uncommon niche with abundance of special floral elements and containing a unique geography which comprises of a catchment, rivulets, streams, ponds, swamps, sand, minerals, plain or scattered rocks, unique grass, micro life forms and more. The appearance of vegetation and geological formation is unique but they can also pass off as a dense patch of forest.  To make out a niche one need not be a biologist or a geologist etc. A close look is enough. 

Thus in a small spot or place, a complex ecosystem exists which sustains unique life forms, water in dry season, shelter, food and often climate control, tigers and other mammals, reptiles, insects and birds find succor or life sustenance environment during the time of stress and even on regular basis. 

These are important and fragile components of  life support systems that if damaged or broken can have a disastrous impact upon the ecosystem as whole. Absence of these niche which are often due to obliteration or neglect is not a good sign and will eventually lead to disintegration of the reserve or National Park in time to come.

Similar life supporting effect or preservation could be brought about by presence or grouping of insects, birds, reptiles and mammals in a reserve. 

To make it  clearer even within the large confines of your house, garden, office or factory premises such niche can exist. Whence destroyed you wiould discover absence or diminishing of a species of flora or insects like butterflies and birds if you are a nature lover with keen sense of observation. This is precisely how unplanned urbanization destroy biodiversity in our towns and cities.  This is another reason why linear development is often criticized or cautioned in India by acclaimed conservationists.    

In case of violent intrusions by humans and livestock in area not protected as inviolate or out of bounds the diversity diminishes. Many species become extinct and the environment as whole suffers. Though well preserved in the core of our tiger reserves they are conspicuous by absence in the buffer. This is due to constant biotic pressure especially caused by livestock, denudation, logging and many other factors.    

Any visitor if vigilant during the safaris in our tiger reserves would make out such spots albeit they are often presented as picturesque or described as place containing water etc. That is why it is important to be observant during the safaris and not only chase tigers and other mega fauna. 

Thankfully our wildlife managers and field staff of the reserve are in the know of these niche or micro habitats and their ecological value. That incidentally makes habitat preservation extremely complex is not only saving the trees or grassland.    

This is another reason why indicator species like the tiger has become extremely important. Presence of an animal at the top of the food chain is an indication of a healthy ecosystem and a certain proof of presence and well being of these niche or micro habitats. 

We are the worst whence it comes to the preservation of our ecosystems because of our unmindfullness, greed and a hording mentality.       

Though I am only a naturalist, I always advocate that   tourists must visit tiger reserves with an inclination to learn sincerely so that we can better shape our surroundings and the environment as whole. Children should be encouraged in this endeavour more and more for they will be the policy makers of tomorrow. The wildlife managers or field biologists in our country should organizes camps to educate our masses. This is how greater benefit will accrue out of eco-tourism globally especially whence there is an unrelenting onslaught on our diminishing ecosystems.   

Micro Habitats
Find description and photographs of micro habitats in Bandhavgarh National Park in Central India.

Uday is a naturalist and is passionate about conservation and the well being of tigers in India. He loves to write on these issues on his blog and elsewhere.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Tiger Conservation Threats & History of Linear Development in India

When the British conquered India the exploitation was mostly of resources. They were physically perhaps not as brutal as the earlier invaders which were looters, Mogul megalomaniacs, bigots and usurpers. They did not sack the local populace resorting to senseless killings, rape, loot and forced conversions. Those were times of colonization and there was a purpose! 

The Raj was a manifestation of an advanced and comparatively modern civilization shaped by the industrial world of Europe. The natives were no match for them and the subjugation was complete. 

The disparity that prevailed was absolute because the Sahibs were contemporary with overpowering cultural traits, elite, educated, and yielded power that came easily with their superior force. The governance was aided by employment of  natives in various disciplines and the satraps due to whom a handful of them could easily rule over India. They had mastered structured governance in their domain albeit India too had a structure in place being a Vedic civilization dating five thousand year but we were helpless in front of such overbearing. During the Raj, the rulers writ ran large. 

Coming straight to the point in order to exploit the natural resources better, an infrastructure was required to be put in place. With a technology considered modern in those times, they invaded the hinterland all over. This was the culmination of disastrous unplanned infrastructure building were  only thing that mattered was reaching and unearthing the natural resources and dispatching them to their homeland. 

The aim was extracting maximum economic benefit of having a jewel in the crown - a subjugated civilization that was enormously rich in natural wealth and yet timid and impoverished. With modern infrastructure in place, the enslaved country was being milked incessantly.

In post independent India we benefited from the infrastructure created by the British...and till this day we are following in the footsteps of our erstwhile masters. Though the rulers have left in the year 1947 we are still living with the slave mentality which we inherited during centuries of foreign subjugation.  

We have lost our original ethos and our civilization is badly corrupted by traits of external civilizations that at the most has made us submissive and adaptable babus.  

Post independent India, the incursion into our hinterlands became linear development a contemporary terminology that describes invasion of our lands in lieu of development. We have not hesitated to emulate our erstwhile rulers by doing exactly what they did. 

In this assault on our natural spaces we are empowered to a great extent by education in foreign language and rigidly following the Western ethos, a civilization parasitism that is simply incomprehensible and irrelevant till this day.      

  1. During the Raj we had lost a large chunk of our natural spaces, and denudation and plantation of commercially viable species had already altered the remaining forever. When the rulers left, we did everything that they should not have done. And we still continue...the linear development that is taking a heavy toll of our tiger reserves, National Parks and other ecosystems continues unabated.  

The tiger is on verge of extinction so are many other species, we have no count of how many species that have become extinct, and the extent to which our forests have been denuded. Tigers need inviolate space to breed and live. But is there more space for them in this country? How many big cats does our land mass can support? Will development impact or alter our tiger reserves negatively? These are the questions conservationists are raising. 

Our geography has changed and become non-viable, climate change is affecting us badly with greater  ferocity every year, carbon footprints are enlarging every year, heat, water shortage, pollution and other life threatening factors are on increase. Yet we are in race for development that we perceive is good for us. 

Linear infrastructure development creates opening and easy accessibility to remote regions which were in an inviolate state since evolution due to inaccessibility. This impacts the linear connectivity and prevents corridor formations or makes existing corridors non-viable. Overall habitat loss and or fragmentation of our ecosystems can happen as a result of intrusion. Intruding humans can also cause problems like damage to the fragile species web of life, poaching and wood logging besides according access to foreign or alien species to overpower. Wind erosion and fires can be deadly and so can be territorial changes brought about by man. 

India is on a spree of infrastructural development and the haste can prevent or discourage the alternative, a less damaging methodology.  The impetus on road building, new settlements, urbanization and extraction of natural resources, power projects, dams etc are  like a death knell for species survival and conservation of our natural spaces.   

It is imperative for the Nation to develop sound policies that in spite of infrastructural development circumvent or safe guards our natural spaces and preserves crucial resources besides creating a harmonious environment good enough for our well being and maintain an equilibrium.
Uday works as a naturalist in India and writes on tigers and their conservation.