"Future of local population rests on tiger-related tourism"

Jim Knight, UK's minister for biodiversity, landscape and rural affairs, responds to Kushal Pal Singh Yadav's queries on the British government's intention in helping India tackle wildlife crime and illegal trade in wildlife

By Kushal Pal Singh Yadav
Published: Tuesday 28 February 2006

What was the main purpose of your visit to India?
I was here to attend the Delhi sustainable development summit. The visit was also meant as a follow up to the uk -India dialogue process, which began when the Indian minister of environment and forests, A Raja, visited the uk in October, 2005. The dialogue was about sharing information related to sustainable development. Tackling wildlife crime was identified as a key area of cooperation. Two days before my visit, some leading enforcement officers of the uk were in India to run a workshop on tackling wildlife crime.

Who participated in that workshop?
Union and state government officials as well as representatives from ngos. We are keen to help India tackle wildlife crime and other biodiversity-related smuggling.

Had the Indian government approached you for help?
Yes, the wildlife crime issue did come up in a major way when the dialogue process was initiated during Raja's visit in October 2005. It was something he instigated and we followed it up with the workshop.

What was the main agenda in your meeting with Raja?
We started with a discussion on the rapid decline of the vulture population, and then moved on to issues related to wildlife crime. That formed the bulk of our discussions. The us initiative to form a coalition against wildlife trafficking also came up during the talks. We have joined the initiative and look forward to other countries joining it.

Was the issue of declining number of tigers also discussed?
Yes, you cannot discuss wildlife crime in India without talking about tigers. I have just returned from Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan. It was quite thrilling to see the tigers around the park. The population level of these animals is critical and the results of the tiger census are keenly awaited. After all, the future of the local population, to a great extent, rests on tiger-related tourism.

Did you also discuss the issue of recent demolition drive of encroachments at Ranthambore?
No, we didn't. I am aware of the issue. Even in the uk we have some friction between national park authorities, local authorities and local people. I keep out of those as well.

Your impressions from your visit to Ranthambore?
We visited some villages around the park to see the implementation of the biogas initiative. We also visited a school, which has been funded in large measure by uk conservation interests such as the Surrey-based David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation. And that effort to give the local people something back seems a very important part of sustaining the tiger population. After all local people's support is at the heart of protecting the tiger from threats to its habitat.

What could be the reason for decline in tiger numbers?
A number of factors. Illicit trade in wildlife parts and loss of habitat are the major threats to wildlife in India. A large measure of the solution lies in addressing the social and economic needs of the local population so that they protect the tigers.

In that case will relocating villages work? In the past, a number of such attempts failed. This has led to aresentment and anger among villagers.
There again, I don't think it's proper to intervene in that discussion. Every local circumstance needs a local solution and on the basis of a day-long visit to Rajasthan, I do not feel qualified to answer your question.

Besides, we in the uk have not experienced the difficulty you talk of : our national parks are meant to protect landscapes, not wildlife.

Protecting wildlife that depends upon an unmanaged landscape is a different challenge. You then have to decide whether to exclude local people or include them in the conservation process. That decision should be best left to people who understand the local situation.

On the issue of illegal wildlife trade, do you think enough pressure has been put on China through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)?
cites is certainly one way of tackling the problem and I have discussed this particular issue with the head of enforcement at the convention. It is by no means straightforward. And the worrying aspect is that organised crime may now be involved in this trade. And tackling organised crime is something that needs robust action.

Internationally, governments should be talking to each other about the problem. We certainly should not be seeking to bypass cites but should be making sure that it works.

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