Posts Tagged ‘Project Elephant’

Preface

What happened at Kanha National Park is the consequence of augmented consciousness by authorities towards the need to protect the endangered wildlife in our country and perhaps a result of the decreasing number of tigers. But do we really understand the necessity to preserve whatever is left of the precious forests and wildlife in India? Let me share some interesting specifics to bring some light into this issue. This article is purely based on solid facts I mustered during my employment with the Periyar Tiger Reserve. This will help you comprehend the present issues pertaining to tiger reserves in India by taking Periyar Tiger Reserve as an example.

Introduction

Periyar Tiger Reserve is the 10th Tiger Reserve in the country.  It is spread across 925 Sq. Km in the Western Ghats in the Idukki District of the Kerala state in India. Started off as a Game Reserve by the British and later declared as a Wildlife Sanctuary after Independence, is now the home for 35-37 (approx) tigers. Among tourists all around the world, Thekkady is known for the wildlife, flora and fauna.

History

During British rule, the Travancore Government resolved to construct the Mullaperiyar Dam in Periyar River for irrigation purpose. The then British engineers had a noteworthy achievement but disregarded or miscalculated the after effects, such as while constructing a dam over a huge river like periyar, they forgot to take into account whether the apportioned land will be able to hold the water mass. Beyond expectations the dam flooded over to some parts of the forest area which shaped a lake, inside the forest. Then onwards the wildlife began to gather near the lake for drinking water. Tigers, elephants, bisons, leopards, wild dogs, etc were spotted mostly during those days.

This is where the  then Travancore State Government (Maharaja of Travancore) declared the land as a game reserve and appointed S.C.H. Robinson as the first game warden. Subsequently, based on the proposition by Mr. Robinson, considering the diversity in flora and fauna and the significance of protecting the forest and its wildlife, the area was declared as Nellikkampetty Sanctuary in the year 1934. In 1966 the area was brought under the jurisdiction of The Kerala Forest Department (KFD) and thereby it was known as Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Considering the tiger population in the sanctuary, the land was added to Project Tiger in 1978 and the Sanctuary was renamed as Periyar Tiger Reserve. In 1991 the land was also brought under Project Elephant also because of the elephant population there. The India Eco-Development Project  (IEDP) was implemented in PTR from 1996 to 2004. For sustaining the eco-development initiatives, a trust named Periyar Foundation was established in 2004, which has become a model for the country.

But what civilians/travelers do not know apart from whatever history that you might have read somewhere is that Periyar Tiger Reserve also has an infamous past. Since the beginning the land was playground for poachers, illegal tree fellers and even some civilians of high importance. The wood felling rackets were the most dangerous ones. They would camp inside forest to cut down an entire tree, remove all the evidences such as even the tiniest roots of a 50 or 100 year old tree and make it look like there was never a tree there. And there were some forest officials who were serious into conservation, who would track down and try to capture these rackets. But mostly these tree felling rackets would be well armed and are always prepared to kill and trying to capture them would end up in bloodshed on both sides.  Same in the case of poachers. These gangs would hunt down elephants for the tusk, tigers for their skin nails and teeth, deer, bear etc and sell it in to agents outside. I do not know the exact numbers but purely based on word of mouth information I have acquired, among 100 crimes, something like 10 would be either prevented or caught and from the remaining, around 30-60% would result in bloodshed on the side of forest officials. What I am trying to say is, it was a playground for all these crimes and the management that time could do nothing much about it.

Periyar Tiger Reserve

                Is there anything extraordinary about PTR ? if so, then what is so out of the ordinary about it?

Periyar Tiger Reserve, according to several articles and records is the best managed reserve in India. But I would like to put it in a different way; Periyar Tiger Reserve is the best example in the country, for conservation of forests and wildlife. It must be since 1978 when added to Project Tiger, that PTR started to evolve. Protection of the land from poachers became high priority. Forest officials used to go hunting in the forest, yes, to hunt down these poachers.!! And bloodshed was common both sides. When India Eco-Development Project was implemented, PTR moved on to a new phase of conservation. PTR turned these poachers/dwellers into saviors of the forest. Those who used to dwell the buffer/core zones, who knew the forest like the back of their hand became forest guards and accompanied the forest officials in trapping the poachers and preventing such illegal activities such as tree felling inside the protected area. This gave a new face to PTR. Those who used to exploit the resources in the forest for their livelihood were given jobs at PTR so that they need not go back to their antediluvian life of hunting/seeking. Those who knew the forest and the wildlife very well were taken as forest guards. Those who belonged to the tree felling rackets turned and became protectors of the same; where they would camp near such areas day and night, assist forest officials in day and night patrolling, etc. Others in the tribal region were given jobs in periyar tourism activities, accountability in cultivation as well as distribution of spices such as cardamom under the support and supervision of forest officials, etc. To prevent the tribals from felling trees for household purposes, PTR offered them LPG facilities at very nominal rates as well as complimentary in certain cases. To make sure that these tribals don’t sell/supply resources from the forest illegally to third parties, PTR started buying almost anything sold by them and that too for a price that they won’t get outside. Among the goods sold by these tribals to PTR, cardamom is the major one. Once PTR buy these goods, further distribution is done taken care of by tribal committees which are supervised by forest officials. These committees are formed in accordance with the IEDP and are called Eco-Development Committees or widely known in the department as EDC’s. Various tourism activities such as Nature Walk, Tiger Train, Green Walk, Night Patrol, Bamboo Rafting etc in PTR are handled by different EDC’s. The tourism activities of PTR also involves Bamboo Grove, a studio apartment facility fully made of bamboo.

What you should understand is that whatever tourism activity you experience in Periyar Tiger Reserve is part of a conservation plan implemented by PTR. Whatever revenue comes out of these tourism activities are transferred to a common account called Park Welfare Fund which is then used to pay for the wages/salaries for these tribals as well as to meet any uncertainties on the side of these tribals. Not a single penny of this money is taken for anything other than for the cultural, social and moral upliftment of these tribals, not even for the development/modification of the facilities for tourists or towards conservation purposes. But when you talk about PTR, there is one more thing you should know of, THE PERIYAR FOUNDATION. The Periyar Foundation is a trust, chaired by the minister of forests and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF). Periyar Foundation is the backbone of PTR. It takes care of all the socio-ecological complications in and around PTR, execute tiger census, conduct several studies on the diverse species of flora & fauna, the wildlife, the tribals, etc,. Periyar Foundation provides all the support to PTR for the conservation of the protected land and its wildlife.

There is more about PTR that makes it stand out, as THE Best EXAMPLE for the best managed tiger reserve in India. Because, we must not forget the fact; the objective of all these tiger reserves is CONSERVATION AND PROTECTION OF THE FORESTS AND PARTICULARLY THE WILDLIFE IN IT and not to make profit out of these tourism activities by exploiting the forest and the wildlife thereby invading their natural habitat.

A TIGER RESERVE IS NOT A ZOO.!!

Visit periyartigerreserve.org for more info.

© Яahul…