Thursday, 18 March 2010

Tiger! Tiger!

I received this deeply disturbing note from a friend. For security reasons I am not naming this individual. However, I decided that I will publish it as is. If, after reading you feel that this is an important issue and really want to help in any small way, do share it with all your friends and comment on what you are really willing to do. If you are in the media, do think about publicising this point of view. And if you want to get in touch with this individual on a personal level, do let me know.

------------------- A note to worry about -------------------------------------

Just saw comments on Bhandhavgarh by a great naturalist and friend - Anand. Frightening! Combined with the news that Corbett [national park] also lost a tiger recently!! The amount of comments that Corbett's tiger loss has received has really astounded me.It really is heart warming to see so many people crying aloud about our state of wildlife and also heart wrenching to know that most of these people will stop with just that.

Things I believe that many of us, (people who care for the enviironment/wildlife) forget are:

a) Most of the youngsters, interested in wildlife do not join the forest department, since it is not [apparently] a great job! Since this is the case - how in God's name are we going to save any of our species!!

b) Blaming the forest department, without even knowing the kind of issues involved does not do any of us any good. Like how many of the enthusiasts know that in most of the Indian states there is only one vet for monitoring/protecting et.c the wildlife in the [entire] state ? Some "Project elephant" reserves in this country have to wait for a months time for the reimbursement of fuel expenses!!

c) The above brings us to the question as to why dont vets or youngsters join the forest department? Try and change the system by working within it! It is a fight which might not result in any win [immediately] - but then atleast there is a start and you set the battle for change rolling!!

d) Running campaigns, creating awareness is all great, but at the grass root levels what changes occur within the machinery? Like it is a known fact that 70% of the forest department staff is made up of temporary workers (like the gaurds, anti-poaching watchers etc). While their salary is a pittance (about one evening's spend for many of us) their duty calls for risking their lives day in and day out. Jokes apart, in many states their salary is about roughly about 60-120 rupees a day, and that too paid after a three month delay.

e) These same temporary workers are the people who pit their lives day in and day out. Like you would understand and agree with me, meeting a [wild] bull or lone elephant in any of the jungles in the western ghats is the most frightening encounter. To protect and safe guard themselves, the guards (in certain conflict prone areas) have rifles with blank catridges to scare off [wild animals], when absolutely necessary. Now before someone makes a cry about [the] scaring off [tactic] and taking the above in an alltogether different context, guys, these blank catridges are for the old, purana .303 rifles which most of you would have used during your NCC training. And these catridges have to be accounted for IF used!!! And the replacement for the used catridges when will it come is a question? And these are the same weapons the guards have to use for saving our wildlife from poachers !! So it is a great feeling to having to meet a poacher armed with the most sophisticated weaponry :)

f) The forest department's funding is a very funny thing and mostly incomprehensible to sane people. To do a independent survey of an established tiger/elephant reserve, the ministry would spend in crores, but would not give funding to a particular reserve to staff it well! When the morale of the grass root level worker, who has not recieved his salary for three months is at the lowest ebb, what is the purpose of survey, green cover increase etc, when it is the same guy who has to do the job?

Another thing on the funding front, none of the anti-poaching camps are properly equipped to do their primary duties. Like the men have no torches, clothing against natural elements like rain or cold weather, no chargers available (for charging their equipment like walkie-talkies, torches if any, their gps if any etc). Solar panels and their batteries are as usual like most government stuff the cheapest you can find, thanks to corruption at various levels.

g) Questions like why are we not rewarding those men who risk their lives to protect our green wealth are unanswered? Personally I know of men (temporary workers) who have fought bare handed against poachers and have almost lost their lives, rewarded with about 10,000/- !! What a great motivation !! In a few other cases, where some of these men have been showered with awards, nothing has been done to elevate their financial conditions! They CONTINUE WORKING AS TEMPORARY WORKERS FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS !!

h) The officials in the forest department are a breed altogether different. They should probably be classified as a different species. Totally corrupt and interested in getting their promotions and money, most of them have zilch interest in wildlife. And many of them are old timers who have no proper education in wildlife or training. They are more trained in social forestry and timber harvesting than wildlife. Why? that is how the entire ministry and the country have looked at forests so far! Though things are changing, it could be late !! It looks that the ministry / government are neither concerned nor interested in protecting this nations wealth.

h) As far as corporate funding for wildlife is concerned, it seems that all they are interested in is media exposure! Rather than run a media campaign about saving our wildlife/tigers, they could spend one tenth of that money and adopt a tiger reserve/wildlife sanctuary. Given the way our government works, this would be a herculean task. But if there is serious interest in really doing something constructive, i am sure they can work their way around and find a solution. After all we are talking about saving this nation, and if it means no media exposure and thereby no publicity - so be it. Again on a personal note - when I approached some of these corporates - the one question they want answered is - what does our company get in return ? Sorry - but being an ex-media person - I really don't think that I have an answer for that!! So - if a telecom giant sponsors a rehabilitation of say, a sloth bear or a leopard, should the animal in particular be wearing a sign board saying "rehabilitated by so and so"? Would love to see that if it happens!!
All put together , unless something drastic happens or a miracle, things look very bleak for India's eco-wealth.

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