Missing the wildlife for the tiger
Radhika Raj / DNA
Sunday, September 27, 2009 2:46:00 AM
The Bombay Natural History Society’s headquarters at Kala Ghoda is buzzing with activity. Scientists from across the country have flown in to present projects they have worked on through the year. They’re an interesting mix — some have been studying the disappearance of sparrows, others working on breeding vultures, while one researcher has been trying to find a solution to the man versus beast conflict at Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
Dr Nita Shah, head of the vulture advocacy programme at BNHS, is slightly cross with our journalist’s reason to visit the headquarters. “You are here for an interview for the International Tiger Day? September 5 was International Vulture Day, I wonder why nobody from the press bothered then,” she says.
National board for wildlife member, Asad Rahmani smiles. “Nobody in this country wants to look beyond the tiger. When a tiger is killed, it makes headlines. What about the other species that are facing extinction? Half the frog species are declining at an alarming rate and there are no efforts to save them,” he says.
Rahmani agrees the tiger is a beautiful animal and very important for conservation. But he believes the country is getting carried away with it. So much so, that it is leading to disproportionate allocation of funds, and a distorted view of wildlife. “I often meet people who talk about how their trip to the Jim Corbett park was a waste because they didn’t see a single tiger. What about the other 500 species of birds and animals there?”
In the current five-year plan (2007-12), the government has allocated Rs600 crore for relocating tiger families and Rs200 crore for tiger protection — the highest-ever for tiger conservation. Barely any funds have been allocated to safeguard other endangered species.
Ask Vibhu Prakash, principal scientist at BNHS, who has been doing research on vultures. Their population has declined by 90 per cent in the past decade. And without them, carcasses would decay and breed viruses that spread diseases. “Initially we received no funds from the government. We wrote to them repeatedly but got no response. The project was entirely funded by Darwin Initiative for Survival of Species, a UK based agency,” he says. Currently a breeding centre at Pinjore has been set up with a little help from the state government.
MK Ranjitsinh, chairperson of the Wildlife Trust of India, believes the vulture is just one such example. “Like most tourists who come to India are only interested in the Taj Mahal and Khajuraho, most Indian conservationists cannot see beyond the tiger,” he says.
Ranjitsinh was a member secretary on the committee that initiated Project Tiger in the 1970s. However, he now believes the country is blinded by the animal. “Do we care about the Snow Leopard in the Himalayas that needs our urgent attention? There are only 200 Kashmiri stags. Do we care about them?”
The argument is that the tiger is at the apex of the food chain and protecting the tiger means protecting the entire food chain. But there are problems with this approach. The tiger habitats, thanks to the aggressive activism and media attention, are relatively better off. However areas where the tiger is not found are completely ignored. “The Himalayas are facing huge problems because rarely are any funds allocated to these areas. Nobody is bothered about them,” says Ranjitsinh, who is now working on Project Snow Leopard to help conserve India’s unique natural heritage of high-altitude wildlife.
Praveen Bhargav, member of the National Wildlife Board, also believes that overexposure of the tiger will lead to apathy. “If people read about the tiger every day they will take it for granted and stop worrying.”