Sri Lanka devises new way to conserve wildlife

Published: Thursday 15 March 2007

what Sri Lanka can do, most unfortunately, India cannot. The island nation is plagued by widespread conflict between elephants and humans caused, as is usual in these parts, by the expansion of human settlements and a consequent shrinking of the animal's habitat. What makes matters worse is that efforts to circumscribe the movements in protected areas have been unsuccessful because they do not provide elephant herds with the right mix of feed. As a result, they are forced to forage outside, clashing with human settlements in the vicinity. Inevitably, dyed-in-the-wool conservationists have raised concerns about the fate of the elephant. The response from an insurance company, based on a proposal formulated by an economic researcher, has been imaginative. It has devised a scheme through which urban middle-class citizens who are interested in conservation can pay a premium on their life and automobile insurance policy to create a fund that will be used to compensate farmers for loss of life, injury and crop loss much in excess of the small amounts the government currently pays. This is a happy union of conservation through co-existence, without farming communities, who man the trenches in the frontline, losing out. And, of course, middle-class conservationists, safely ensconced in their city habitats, can contribute while getting their conservation agenda going.

This model is unlikely to be replicated in India, where middle-class conservationists can only preach, but not put their money where their mouth is. To them conservation will remain a sacred goal to be achieved at the cost of sacrifices made by others--usually those who are least able to do so, living, as they do, on the margins of subsistence. If anything, these high-minded conservationists are often not above profiting from conservation--as the profile of the tourist industry in an around Ranthambore abundantly demonstrates. At the very least, to the middle-class person, conservation is all about maintaining pretty, pristine wildlife enclaves for their annual vacations.

But why should this surprise us? The whole story of the career of the middle class is the story of a massive rip-off. The story of cornering all possible advantages from the system without having to bother about contributing back into the common social pool. It's always a question of others paying for our luxuries.

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