'Engage locals to boost conservation'

Govts must involve people, says wildlife expert Schaller

'Engage locals to boost conservation'

Better conservation is possible by involving the local community and is not just a single person or a single department’s job, said George Schaller, vice president emeritus of Panthera. Panthera is an organisation devoted exclusively to the conservation of the world’s 38 wild cat species and their ecosystems.

In an interview to DH on Thursday, the 83-year-old German-born American conservationist said political decisions are being made without understanding local problems, not just in India, but world over, leading to more man-animal conflicts and deaths. “Everybody wants development, but there is a need to draw a balance and that can be done by involving the local communities, for food and water,” he said.

“Money earned from tourism and other activities is pocketed by officials and departments. Instead, if part of it is shared with local communities, there can be conservation as they too will have responsibilities. Most hotels and commercial establishments around forest areas are run by outsiders, which angers locals. The government should provide locals jobs. It is all connected, but the government is looking at it in isolation. There is also a need to regulate tourism. Earlier, there was a cap on the number of tourists visiting Kanha. This should continue in all forests,” he said.

Schaller’s energy and passion towards conservation is second to none. As a mammalogist, biologist and author, he talks wildlife habitats and animal biology of India, with the same enthusiasm as he did in 1963 when he had first visited Kanha National Park.

Schaller rates Karnataka nine on ten (with one at the bottom) in tiger protection. He lists the forests of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam as the best, but points out that there is very little control. Schaller states that Karnataka also needs to show a lot of improvement. There are some good conservationists; the government needs to involve them along with local communities. “Tigers have increased, but there is a need to build corridors. Tigers are walking through estates. The government and forest department should play the role of conservators. Destruction of forests by building roads, diverting rivers, laying electric cables and other projects, should stop and buffer zones should be created,” he said.

He also pointed out that India is the finest place for people to see wildlife as it has varied forest patches. But this increases the responsibility of the government and the department manifold. Dedicated and experienced staff should be recruited, trained officers, veterinarians and darters are vital, he added. He expressed anguish over the recent death of two wild tigers because of overdose of tranquillisers and improper decisions. “Relocation is a complicated topic and depends upon situations.

It is important to understand why there is conflict. If cattle are coming into forests and tigers are feeding on them, then its easy for one to understand what needs to be tackled,” opined Schaller.

He is working closely with many countries on various projects, like with China on its Yellow and Yangtze river projects and even on the Himalayan glaciers. Schaller said that illegal wildlife trade and poaching are still rampant globally. The top five items in high demand in the illegal wildlife market are shark fins (there has been a 90% climb), pangolins (China has been importing a lot of Pangolins, because of which they are disappearing), tiger bones (still capture a huge market globally) and ivory (where they have been even sold at $2,000 a kilo).

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