What Sariska's taught us

Tigers vanish while tiger-wallahs flourish

Published: Friday 15 April 2005

-- has the barrage of news on 'missing tigers' pouring in from all over the country affected the Union ministry of environment and forests (moef)? Not a jot. Consider the reaction: the National Wildlife Board, chaired by the Prime Minister himself, has sent in the Central Bureau of Investigation (cbi) to find Sariska's 'missing' cats. The tiger-wallahs have succeeded again: creating a public spectacle (it beats a shikar in entertainment value) out of a crisis. What will cbi achieve? Conclusively prove the tiger is not 'missing', but dead, in Sariska? Should there be as many enquiries as tiger reserves? And what if these enquiries find what very wildlife biologist worth his research already knows: that its not the tiger, but the tiger-wallahs that need sorting out?

The tiger-wallah is a remarkable species. It is the oldest living two-legged animal in a jungle called tiger conservation. This species abhors field research, but loves to sit in on television panels and rant mantras twenty-thirty years old, precisely the ones that landed the tiger in the crisis visible today. They prowl the dusty corridors of the m o ef, become members of high-powered fact finding commissions, and stay on it; the tiger, meanwhile, hurtles towards extinction.

These people advise the government that the only way to conserve the tiger (and biodiversity) is to throw people out of reserve areas. This advise has not helped the tiger. It has certainly made life more miserable for people living in tiger habitats or its vicinity. Who is killing the tiger? Surely the poacher. And who could save it? Surely not the cbi but the villager, who can help form the first level of intelligence against poaching. Today they don't help, because tiger-wallah policy has ensured villagers feel as engirded and fenced-in as the tiger.

To save the tiger, then, first the coterie of tiger-hugging celebrities must be banished from the policy arena. They should be replaced by real ecologists, conservationists and environmentally sound agencies. Their accumulated knowledge, from years of research at village and field level, may not make for a good sound-bite, but will get the job done.

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