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Together we strive to save our nature


Financial Chronicle, Chennai, 8th August, 2015

 

  By Dharmendra Khandal       

 

It is a hot summer day and just outside the Ranthambhore tiger reserve, a goat herder is heading home with his herd. He stops when he finds a strategic point and installs a camera. Puzzling as it may be for the onlookers, the goat herder is what we call a village wildlife watcher (VWW).

 

A year ago forest department, with the help of a local NGO and a travel organisation, started to hire locals to keep track of wild animals — the cameras installed, for instance, will record animals’ movement in the night. Ten such villagers from 10 different villages are helping the department in monitoring tigers in the periphery. Next day, a team coordinator will come to collect the pictures taken at night. The data collector is also from the same community, but he is trained in using basic technology. The team leader downloads all the previous night data in his smart phone and sends important pictures to the DFO.

 

This special skill task force, which comprises locals, helps in three different tasks: wildlife monitoring outside the protected areas; gathering of information related to poaching; and local support in case of human wildlife conflict management. These VWW belong to the critical part of the reserve, where the forest department’s presence may not be so strong. These goat herders, farmers and unemployed youths take their tasks sincerely. They started giving information to us regarding poaching, cattle kill, man animal conflicts, straying big cats movement, mining and wood cutting.

 

The work reached the next level when these villagers were trained in use of technology for monitoring of tigers. Forest department trained them to use camera traps, their coordinator is a class 10 dropout, who is using smartphone to download their data everyday and share with us through WhatsApp.

 

Regularly, wild animals, including the tiger, move outside of the tiger reserve and at times enter villages or other human settlements. Such incidences put both the tiger and the park authorities in a spot, as the rescue of the animal is uncertain as well as risky. But with the help VWW from the adjoining villages, the forest department can act fast before disaster strikes. The programme allows the VWW to move freely doing their daily chores and yet collecting information, networking and creating a positive opinion about conservation of wildlife among fellow villagers.

 

An ideal VWW candidate should be a villager who lives close to the park boundary. The remuneration offered by the forest is not the main income of the person, and it is conveyed to the person clearly that it is an additional money for a particular task. If the person is not able to help, the remuneration will be stopped by the agency. One agency should maintain contact with them: it can be either the forest department or an NGO that enjoys a cordial relationship with the forest department. This will help in sending the information to the right channel and will help in accomplishing the tasks in timely manner.

 

The field director of Ranthambhore, YK Sahu, has taken a radical initiative towards flexible tiger monitoring outside the park. This programme is being supported by the Travel Operators for Tigers forum — a UK based organisation, which is funding a major part of it. If the model is picked by the other parks, it can be a visionary step in new age wildlife management.

 

(The writer is a conservation biologist at Tiger Watch, Ranthambore)

http://www.mydigitalfc.com/leisure-writing/together-we-strive-save-our-nature-396