"We don't intend to threaten India"

The Environmental Investigation Agency ( eia) is one of the leading international environment organisations in London. Recently, it has initiated a campaign on the Indian tiger and has brought out a report -- The Political Wilderness -- India's Tiger Crisis, with the aim of bringing international pressure to bear on India to take stringent measures to save tigers. Max Martin and Neena Singh spoke to Dave Curry , director eia

Published: Friday 28 February 1997

On the working methodology of EIA:
We gather information by making video films on people, recording their views and taking photographs.

On information gathered for campaigns in India:
I have spent three months in India and have pooled-in a lot of information. People will be surprised to know the enormous amount of information we have and I think our information will interest them too. We have recently come out with a sensational report. The focus of our campaign is tigers.

On creating political awareness to save tigers in India:
I agree it is not going to be easy, but it is worth giving a try. Everywhere I went, there was a general concern among people that there is a lack of political interest in India about wildlife.

India is no longer isolated from trade -- it is one of the advantages of free market that India becomes more open to international criticism. So let us at least use that advantage of international pressures.

We don't intend to threaten India. It is not like our rhino-horn campaign in Taiwan where we even changed the name of the country in our advertisement from Taiwan to "Die"wan. It will not be so in India. Here you have a very developed environmental movement. You have so many people who can achieve so much internally. We can only act as catalysts.

On the effect of increasing consumerism on international trade in wildlife:
Increasing wealth in a number of new consumerist countries, especially in southeast Asia, has formed new large consumer blocks. Neo-rich people are on the rise. Obscene dinners are hosted in Taiwanese restaurants where people boast about having spent us $70 on a tiger penis soup.

This leads to the killing of more tigers. Countries that are trying hard to protect the rhinos and tigers are losing some of their people too in this battle. This is a human rights issue and can be taken to the consumer court as well.

On whether blanket ban on activities of local people in protected areas (PAs) have alienated them:
Very much so. Community issues in India are extremely complicated. You only have a small portion of land as pa s . I support people who say that let us at least ensure that we fully protect this land. So you have these moves to relocate the people from pa s . There is no doubt that if there are people living inside a pa, there will be political and trade forces who will exploit them.

On EIA's role in the international ban on whaling:
We have been instrumental in maintaining the international commercial whaling ban which was agreed to in 1982 and was put in practice during the whaling season of 1986-87. But the whaling nations have been trying to get the ban lifted.

We are even trying to get dolphins included in the International Whaling Convention because in 1988 about 40,000 dolphins were killed in Japan. At that time their population was only 305,000. Unfortunately, 67 per cent of the dolphin population has already been wiped out. A number of countries are however, opposing this move.

On views about conservationists and economists who are saying that since international trade in ivory has not ceased even with a ban on ivory trade, let the trade be legalised in order to bring down the international value:
After the ivory ban, the trade market has diminished in Africa. Before the ban ivory cost about us $150 per kg. But the ban came in so fast that a lot of syndicates owning hundreds of tonnes of ivory suddenly found that the market was gone since there was a lot of ivory around. So the cost dropped to us $25 to $40 per kg and now they no longer have legal ways to launder it in the system.

The ivory issue has been one of our main achievements. It has actually started the sustainable use debate in wildlife internationally. People talk of sustainability only as a cover. We often find ourselves up against conservationists who push sustainable use as being beneficial to species. I cannot find any example of that. On views about the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Growth of Resources (campfire) experiment involving local communities for management and sharing of benefits from reserves in Zimbabwe, a country also asking for the legalisation of ivory trade:
campfire hates us. I have been to campfire projects but only a few of them are functional. In one area where this project is functional the communities have changed from cattle to wildlife management. There are a lot of wild species around. They bring in foreign tourists who hunt four to five elephants. The money the local communities earn from these foreigners is used to build schools and other local amenities. This has reduced desertification and overgrazing of land in this area.

We have no objection to this. However, the Zimbabwe government is destroying campfire by using it in a political race to try to get the ivory ban lifted.

We have been often accused by white conservationists in Zimbabwe that we do not care for local communities. I think eia strongly cares for the rights of humans and animals. I would, however, question the motives of these conservationists. President Mugabe plans to take away vast areas of land owned by the whites and give it to the local people. So the white Africans want the rhino horn trade to reopen because they own most of the lands inhabited by rhinos and they want to sell their horns which are worth millions of dollars. It is a few individuals who want to make a lot of money and all the politics of conservation in Africa is based on them. The same people who were a part of the apartheid regime now talk about human rights and local communities.

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