Interesting email exchange between Deepali and your truly. Deepali is a naturalist, photographer and economist from Delhi. I got her permission to share this on the blog.
From: Deepali Sharma Sanwal
Date: Tue, 12 May 2009 11:11:25 +0530
To: Aditya Singh
Subject: hi from Delhi
Hello from Delhi. Read your blog.. wanted to read something on conservation after my postings and your replies on INW (http://www.indianaturewatch.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2362)
..I am astonished to find that the name of the poachers are so common knowledge to forest department !
interesting blog ( http://www.dickysingh.com) and great photos on your website ( http://www.ranthambhore.com).. had a word with poonam few days back as we were planning to come down to ranthambhore but the plan did not materialize.. hoping to make it sometime in June !
There is an economist in all of us.
On Tue, May 12, 2009 at 5:17 PM, Aditya Singh wrote:
Sorry you could not make it down but the end of June (from 20th onwards – park shuts on the 30th) maybe a better time. Somewhere in the mid of June we get one or two showers (just a few days after Delhi gets them) and the park just changes colors instantly. The weather and the scenery is much better after that.
I will tell you some interesting facts about poaching and tiger conservation around Ranthambhore region. I am sure these are true for all of India but since I have spent 11 years in this area, I have more examples from here.
1. The “Ranthambhore poaching region” includes Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh till Panna. This area includes all of Rajasthan’s Aravalis (good for leopards), most of river Chambal (crocs, gharials and otters), Sariska, Kuno (MP), Madhav national park (but there is nothing left there to kill and a poacher told us this) and Panna. The same guys operate in all these place. This is particularly true for the dealers and not so much for the shooters/trappers.
2. It is generally made out to be by the NGOs working in “anti-poaching” line that poachers are very secretive, very organized, very dangerous etc etc – which is a load of bullshit. They probably say so to boost their own image and get more people interested. In reality everyone locally, including the forest department, knows the names of the shooters/trappers (at least they know all the gang leaders and reputed poachers), of the buyers, of the couriers etc. It is such common knowledge that if you walked in here and did not know anyone – you could collect most of the data in a week by just asking around in the villages. Most of these people occupy the lowest social spectrum in the caste set up and they are scared of the upper castes. We have often walked into their houses and caught them. They had guns and other arms but would not dare use it against a local upper caste person.
3. The big buyer here is on old woman (and now her two sons) called Munni Bai. She has been doing this for over 30 years and most people around here know of her. At least everyone in the local forest department does. It is only the leading conservationists and senior officers in the forest department at Jaipur and Delhi level who don’t. She is not really the end buyer but she collects stuff and sells it to buyers in Gwalior, Guna etc who further sell is to the big boys in Delhi, Kanpur, Khaga etc.
4. The big centre for leopard skins is Hissar and one of their main guy here is known as “Pal.” He visits this area once or twice a year and has been doing it for over 20 years.
5. At the ground level there is no body working on anti poaching. Here Dharmendra Khandal of Tiger Watch is the only person working on collecting information on poachers. Besides him – no one. No Forest department, no police, no NGO. The problem that he faces is that he has the information about the bad guys but what can he do with it. The forest department does not want the information, the police generally speaking does not work on it because most of the time they need to cross the boundaries of the district. The general attitude is that if it is not happening in my beat it is OK.
6. The big boys of conservation – few well-known megalomaniac personalities who have cornered the conservation limelight/profits (believe me it is very profitable) and the Project Tiger (or NTCA) – are living in an elite dream world and are hopelessly out of touch with reality. They have a mutually beneficial relationship based on you scratch my back and I scratch yours.
The basic problem with tiger conservation (in fact all conservation) in India is:
1. It is too centralized and elitist. All our conservation planning is done by people who are basically rich, based in metros and are very far removed from the ground reality. As a result their plans just do not work and have not been working for over 25 years. After 25 years of failure they are still in the driving seat. This includes the Project Tiger, Supreme Court’s Special Empowered Committee etc etc. Any ground level conservation initiative is killed as soon as it starts becoming popular. The only conservation initiatives that have worked in the world are those which had support at ground level. We have such funny ones – like there was “an anti-poaching workshop” here two years ago, which was (and I am not joking) “a black tie and caviar affair, where no locals were invited.” Most of the villagers here believe that the national park was sold off by the government 20 years ago to foreigners and rich Indian – for their entertainment.
2. It is too unscientific. There has been no decent research done on tigers for the last 45 years. Schaller in Kanha did the last one in mid 1960s. The data on the basis of which conservation planning is done in India is totally false and has been falsified for the last 30 years. How can you come out with a workable solution if the data that you have it totally false.
3. It is too low priority. The government does not care, the rulers do not care, the conservationists do not care – basically we all talk but rarely act. There is no will, no funds, no responsibility and no workable plans. This for an industry that generated over US $ 2 Billion per annum and employs huge amount of people, who are often the poorest of the poor.
Sounds depressing? We got over it some time ago. Some one has to catch the bull by the horns and only then would things begin to change.
From: Deepali Sharma Sanwal
Date: Wed, 13 May 2009 09:37:38 +0530
To: Aditya Singh
Subject: Re: hi from Delhi
I could not agree more with you on so many points made by you!! Though I hardly know too much and most of my ideas are from the observations I have made.
I am indeed surprised to some extent ( though not fully..no one can be who has lived and traveled in India ) that majority of people involved in this whole exercise of conservation are too far away from all this. ( Though most of us are.. and it really takes lots of guts like you did to be actually based right there leaving aside more lucrative earning options in a big city).
I strongly feel that tiger conservation needs to go beyond what it is doing right now. In my opinion people who reside inside or around really can no way be the biggest culprits as they are made to sound sometimes. It is generally the elitist who want the best without really wanting to pay a price involved. Moreover, I feel it has become an in-thing to say that ” I am into wildlife”.. probably it just means that “I visit national parks over weekends to click picture” ( no harm in that too though. people have their own objectives).
I feel the best conservation practices would come only when people who are involved in their daily lives are a part of it and also derive benefits from it..like benefits from tourism. One of the best practices and also one which I thought was working very well was what I saw in Valley of flowers. It is being maintained by joint cooperation of forest department and villagers. The place and the long trek upto the valley is so clean and well maintained, with all facilities for visitors that it comes across strikingly as a very good best practice example. I am sure there are may such examples all over that operate efficiently and silently.
As for conservation, in general, I still have my doubts with its role and placement within the Survival of fittest Darwin theory.. maybe I need to understand it from science.. but the growing human-animal conflict makes one ponder about it. ( last Sunday’s supplement in The Hindu carries three articles regarding HAC)
Lastly, most of the problems we face today are purely due to human GREED.. we ALL want our cake and eat it too.. whether it’s the financial crisis ( which as an economist, I can vouch is largely due to factors that standard theory might not be able to address) or problems of climate change and conservation… something we are not being able to control !
But I am sure there would be a way out else nature has its own way to correct disequilibrium!
Thanks Aditya for explaining in such great details.. am sure there is so much more I need to learn !
On Tue, May 13, 2009 at 3:22 PM, Aditya Singh wrote:
Thanks for your mail.
I am actually making a fairly lucrative earning here (for Ranthambhore standards). In the last 11 years I have morphed from and into – a hotel owner/manager, naturalist, conservationist, photographer, traveler, activist and a local farmer. Before I came to Ranthambhore I worked for the Central Government for a short time, so I kind of understand how the government works. As a result, my problem is that I have been here for too long and pretty much understood how the whole wheel turns.
PS: If I had to sum up the present scenario in most tiger reserves in India, I would do it like this. [To really understand it you have to read between the lines and have a clear understanding of the keywords].
The existing situation in most tiger reserves in India is as follows:
The people who reside around the reserves that have decent wildlife are definitely not the “culprits” that they are made out to be by the “experts” and the “trendy.” Neither are they God’s own creatures as the “leftists make them out to be.”
The people who reside around the reserves are mostly “poor (with a dash of rich)” and for generations they depended on the forest for some “renewable resources” such as fuel wood, fodder, some minor forest produce “etc”.
The problem that they have is that since the forest around their villages has now been declared a “tiger reserve” it is gradually getting “more and more illegal” for them to get their requirements from the forest.
The problem that the “forest managers” have is that the population in their villages has gone up tremendously due to improved medical conditions. The forest just cannot support the needs of all locals. It could do with “lesser disturbance” as more disturbance means less wildlife.
The locals need to fulfill these “needs, so they do it illegally.”
The forest managers are “overwhelmed” by the sheer numbers of locals and are unable to stop them, so they turn a “blind eye” towards it.
The planners, experts and trendy (which is the entire lobby), however, insist that everything should be “strictly legal” as they had a big hand in “making the law (which is blinder than a bat)”. So the planners are “told” that everything is going on as per the law. The planners take it as good feedback and on the basis of this they make more laws and plans. They “periodically check” the ground to see the ground reality for themselves and almost always end up agreeing with the “feed back.”
Thus the cycle repeats itself.
I think our problem can be summed up in four points:
1. Our centralized federal planning does not even take into consideration the ground realities.
2. The implementation of the plan is done by a state government agency that is the lowest priority for most state governments.
3. There are too few voters for wildlife in India.
4. Greed at all levels.