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The red alert in Corbett after the killing of five tuskers is only fuelling the growing cynicism over state managed conservation programmes in India. It is only giving more credence to the school of thought that insists that only poachers will thrive in an era of wildlife rules and regulations that alienate the local community (see pp 6-7: Savage harvest). The year 2000 has been a particularly bad one. Poachers killed over 200 tigers, a tigress was skinned inside a zoo in Hyderabad, several elephants and other rare fauna have also succumbed. But is the wildlife lobby even willing to take a relook at the policy of guns and guards and policing the jungle? Perhaps not. The wildlife establishment has never bothered to take a look at how communities in India have lived in harmony with nature. As a result the Veerappans of the north and the south have always prospered.
Let us take the case of the Bishnois of northern India. A 400-year-old sect, they observe 29 principles of conservation for plants and animals. The Mores of Maharashtra protect the peafowl, while the rat finds sanctuary in the temple of Karanimatha in Bikaner in Rajasthan. Even the large population of Rhesus monkey so valuable for biomedical research is a result of these traditions. However, with the subsistence occupations that once supported these communities vanishing their cultural practices are slowly disappearing. The modern nature conservation movement had its origins in the interests of sports persons and naturalists. India today has over 520 national parks and sanctuaries. Reserve siting and management are often based on imported conservation models.
But wildlife management in India means not just conserving lions and tigers. It means harmonising the objectives of biodiversity with the rights of the people dependent on these resources. Any insular policy is bound to fail as traditional communities in India have been interacting with their local environment and the wildlife of the area for the last 5,000 years. But the Wildlife Conservation Act prohibits all human intervention or settlement in National Parks. For people living in and around protected areas the forest department is enemy number one. This is a department that busies itself with chasing graziers and honey collectors and levying fines on forest dwelling communities.
This has spurred a backlash from the local communities and in places led to violence against forestors. Today the problems of poaching and illegal timber felling are rampant. As the wildlife and timber mafia are very powerful authorities turn a blind eye to their existence. In case of encroachments by mining interests officials only alert their seniors. The guns and the guards are therefore used against the local poor. At the end of the chain is wildlife and biodiversity. Suffering silently.