At a time when the conflict between humans and tigers is at an all-time high,National Tiger Conservation Authority Member Secretary,Dr Rajesh Gopal has a novel idea a sub-cadre dedicated to wildlife. Dr Gopal,who has been a part of tiger conservation for 30 years,shares his views with Neha Sinha.
•How do you think a wildlife cadre can help the tigers?
Rajesh Gopal: everyone talks of Protected Areas (PAs) but no one appreciates the fact that the PA needs to be actively managed to save the tiger. The NTCA was formed following an amendment in 2006 to the Wildlife Protection Act,but it is unable to function the way it should because of a lack of understanding of this core issue. The key to saving the tiger is to manage the tiger landscape. We need,urgently,a cadre trained in wildlife and ecosystem management. Buffer zones around core tiger areas are crucial for the tiger,as they act as a filter between human habitation and tigers and a home for young tigers. But this is not appreciated as a scientific fact; not a single state has notified its buffer zone from 2006 onwards. Currently,we have incomplete tiger reserves. The tiger,which is a territorial animal and needs to stroll large distances,needs to be dealt with in an intelligent way when it spills out of the core area or tiger reserve.
•In December,Uttar Pradesh announced a cash reward for the killing of a man-eater which had strayed out of Pilibhit.
Rajesh Gopal: These are the instances that defeat the purpose of tiger conservation. That animal was a young male which had lost its way from Pilibhit. Due to a lack of understanding of the nature of the animal,such tigers are either bundled off into zoos or worse,declared as a man-eater. The correct way to deal with such an animal is to tranquilise him and take him to a soft-release area,or to lure him back to the forest,and radio-collar it to monitor its movements. There are other options apart from killing. Increasingly,states with a lack of expertise deal with wild tigers in an incorrect way. Recently,a wild tiger who had strayed out of Bandhavgarh was sent into a zoo facility. Two years ago,a wild tigress with two cubs from Bandhavgarh was also sent to a zoo facility. If we have a better understanding and expertise of the problem,then the tiger would not be given the pest value it is given now. There are seasons why tigers tend to stray out. We need to understand that. A tiger in a zoo does not help the ecology or tiger conservation.
•How do you envision the wildlife cadre?
Rajesh Gopal: I envisage a tiger conservationist as a naturalist first and administrator later. Tigers in India today are dying. The government of India has given a lot of money for tiger conservation. We need to maximise this. We can start with a state-level sub cadre within the Indian Forest Service. At the level of the IFS test,we should have an aptitude test. What does the candidate feel towards tiger conservation? Would he have the energy to take on tiger-specific problems? Alternatively,we could have a federal reserve system under the government of India. Under such a system,we could make sure that we have more normative,scientific standards with training in forensic science,wildlife management,and ecology. We cant have arbitrary mid-career transfers of promising candidates. There should be a centralised seniority of the sub-cadre so that good practices can be disseminated in tiger reserves. I would also like lateral entry of researchers or scientists into the cadre.
It is also essential to foster a greater sense of pride in this service. The members need to feel that they are doing something of national relevance. Tiger reserves are areas of national importance and they need to have stronger weight than just be a state-controlled area.
•Is there a need to look at other countries for such a model?
Rajesh Gopal: I think the US Fish and Wildlife Service is a good model. Thats the kind of dedicated service India requires. The All India Tiger Estimation released this year is a telling document. The survey shows most of the tigers in India in the 17 tiger states fall only in the PAs. This means,clearly,that if we didnt have PAs we wont have any tigers.
Views expressed are personal