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Saturday, July 27, 2013


Dear Friends,

In June 2013, the State of Uttarakhand experienced several days of unseasonal and exceptionally heavy rainfall resulting in devastating flash floods and landslides. Many villages located in Uttarkashi, Rishikesh, Joshimath, etc.  were badly affected and we have seen television images of houses,  buildings, temples, religious idols, all swept away due to the sheer force of the river. The poor villagers, who make a living out of the pilgrims and tourists during this season, lost   their only means of making a livelihood and  also sadly,   their homes.

Uttarakhand is home to many pilgrimage sites, such as Badrinath, and Kedarnath, apart from being a popular tourist destination. At least  70,000 tourists and pilgrims, were caught unaware and  were stranded without any access to food, water or dry shelter. The landslides caused massive damage to houses and even medium-rise brick and mortar buildings were not spared.  The official number of casualties is more than 10,000 and many thousands of villagers have been rendered homeless. 

In the past, many scientists and environmentalists had warned the Government about the serious repercussions of developmental activities, especially the Tehri project  undertaken in the ecologically-fragile Himalayas.  Mass deforestation, lack of a suitable buffer between the Himalayan rivers such as the Ganga and  human settlements on its banks, haphazard construction of  new roads, buildings,   dams,  mining and hydro-electric projects across the State, had  exacerbated   this  destruction.  .

Back in September 2010, similar flash floods also wrecked havoc to the entire state of Uttarakhand. Faced with the seriousness of the situation, The Corbett Foundation (TCF) raised donations and its  team based in Dhikuli, sprung into action and immediately initiated the flood relief measures in some of the villages situated along the banks of River Kosi. TCF provided the affected villagers temporary housing, cooking utensils, blankets, medical aid, food and other essential supplies on a priority basis. Our team members crossed rivers on rafts, to reach flood-hit villages. At the risk of endangering their own lives, our doctors and other staff spared no efforts in distributing essential supplies and medical services to the victims.

The current situation is of a much larger magnitude compared to the floods in 2010. We earnestly request you once again to join hands with us and assist us in our mission to render help quickly to these poor villagers, who are trapped between the flood waters and living in these  hostile environment.

Your donations to The Corbett Foundation will enable us to provide much needed and speedy medical treatment, temporary shelters and sustenance to the victims.

Thank you.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Supreme Court's 'green signal' to wildlife tourism in tiger reserves.

The Supreme Court's 'green signal' to wildlife tourism in tiger reserves.

The Supreme Court of India, on October 16th, passed an order permitting wildlife tourism in the tiger reserves of the country as per the revised eco-tourism guidelines notified by the Ministry of Environment and Forests. 

While this news has come as a respite for the entire tourism industry, it is now the time to introspect and look at wildlife tourism as a responsible and sustainable activity. The guidelines specify the following principles while implemention: - Adopt low-imapct tourism which protects the integrity of forest and wildlife areas 
- Engage with and ensure participation and consent Gram Sabhas and Panchayats to facilitate decision-making 
- Develop mechnisms to generate revenues from wildlife tourism for the welfare and economic upliftment of local communities 
- Highlight the biodiversity richness and their ecological services to people 
- Highlight the heritage value of tiger reserves 
- Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect 
- Provide livelihood opportunities to local communities 
- Promote sustainable use of indigenous materials for tourism activities 
- Promote processes for forest dwellers to control and maintain their resources, culture and rights 

Involvement of local communities is a key aspect of these ecotourism guidelines. While this is a welcome step and realisation, it needs to be seen how and what further steps are taken to achieve this prime objective. One important decision taken is to develop a system to ensure that the gate recepits from tiger reserves should remain with the local authorities and these are to be used for conservation work, local livelihood development, tackling human-wildlife conflict and welfare omeasures of field staff.

The State Governments will charge a 'conservation fee' between Rs.500 to Rs.3000 per room per month from the resorts around the tiger reserves. Again an idealistic approach that may not go down well with the tourism industry as the fee range given seems to be quite steep and will ultimately be passed on to the guests and in turn may affect the bookings thus resulting in the drop in revenue of gate receipts. This needs a rethink. An alternative may be to ensure that all resorts have a minimum ecological footprint on the area i.e they become more energy-effiecient, harvest rainwater for use in toilets and swimming pools, etc.

The State Government will constitute a Local Advisory Committee for each tiger reserve that will review the tourism strategy with respect to the tiger reserve, snsure site specific norms on infrastructure, monitor all tourist facilities in and around tiger reserves vis-a-vis environmental clearances, etc.

Hope the State Governments set up these committees soon as chaos and confusion was seen in some repouted tiger reserves since the beginning of this tourist season. The number of safari vehicles entering the tiger reserves were reduced abruptly without consulting the stakeholders. This defeats the very purpose of these ecotourism guidelines. As a result, the local people involved in and dependent on tourism protested. Thereafter, the vehicle numbers were increased and then again decreased. Such haphazard decision-making needs to be phased out before anything else. Let the process be transparent as has been emphasised in the guidelines. 

The Corbett Foundation, with its experience in the field and excellent rapport with the local communities, is willing to work with the forest department on the issue of wildlife tourism.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Is a complete ban on wildlife tourism in core areas justified?

The hon'ble Supreme Court in its order dated 24 July 2012 has put a stop on all tourism activities in the core zones of the tiger reserves in India. The SC will hold the final hearing in this case on 22 August 2012 wherein the final outcome of this case will be clear. While in principle, we all agree that wildlife tourism in India needs to be controlled and strictly regulated, placing a complete ban on any kind of tourism activities in the core areas will certainly not help the wildlife of the tiger reserves. 

The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (WLPA), as amended in 2006, specifies that the core zones or ‘critical tiger / wildlife habitats’ must be inviolate for a sustainable population of tigers in tiger reserves. The guidelines were circulated by the NTCA in November 2011. Having inviolate habitat for tigers (and other wildlife species) is an ‘ideal’ situation for conservation; it is unfair to blame only the tourism sector for the depletion of tigers in India, as is the basis and assumption for this petition. Tigers in Sariska and Panna were wiped out completely. Were the tourists responsible for this debacle? Obviously not. The tigers were killed by poachers. If having no tourism in core areas was good for wildlife, the tigers reserves like Buxa (in West Bengal) and Palamou (in Jharkhand), where wildlife tourism has been almost non-existent, should have been the models of sustainable tiger populations since 1973 when the Project Tiger was launched in India. However, the situation is otherwise. As per the tiger census data of 2010 released by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the tiger population in Buxa (and Manas together) is 9+ in 1349 sq km and in Palamou it is between 6-13 in 1116 sq km. Why didn’t the tiger numbers rise in all these years? There are sufficient scientific evidences to prove that tigers if offered decent protection with good habitat and sufficient prey base can thrive well. The fact that these areas failed to show good tiger numbers could be a pointer on the mismanagement of these tiger reserves and perhaps a greater threat to the tiger populations here due to poaching. In contrast, the tiger reserves like Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Bandipur, Ranthambhor and Corbett, which are popular destinations for wildlife tourism, have shown stable or increase in tiger populations in 2010, as compared to the previous census data of 2006.

In May 2012, the country was shocked by a series of killings of tigers outside the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra by poachers. The poachers chose to trap the unfortunate tigers outside (or the so-called buffer zones) of the tiger reserve. It must be noted here that Tadoba is yet another popular wildlife tourism destination. The regular movement of tourists inside the reserve obviously keeps the poachers away from these areas. When the tigers are not safe in a popular tiger reserve like Tadoba, one can’t even imagine the fate of tigers in the reserve forest areas and corridors that are good tiger habitats but do not have the status of tiger reserve or national park or wildlife sanctuary. As there is no attempt to estimate the tiger numbers in such areas, the loss of tigers simply goes unnoticed. The NTCA should be worried about these areas and take immediate steps to protect these tiger populations.

Wildlife tourism in India is a developing sector. Lakhs of tourists, from India and abroad, visit the tiger reserves just to catch a glimpse of our national animal. Corbett Tiger Reserve alone has over two lakh tourists annually. To cater to these tourists, tourist infrastructure is developed around these tiger reserves. Thousands of local and forest-dependent communities have been employed or have benefited directly or indirectly due to wildlife tourism. The locals are employed as nature guides, naturalists and resort staff, engaged as daily wage labourers, plumbers, garage workers, drivers, safari vehicle owners, providers of vegetables & poultry products, contractors, tribal artists, etc. The lives of all these stake-holders have been strongly linked to and dependent on wildlife tourism of the tiger reserves. A complete ban on tourism in core areas will seriously affect the well being of these stake-holders. Antagonizing the locals might spell a doom for the wildlife in the area. There are enough examples of displaced or disgruntled people directly or indirectly responsible for killing wildlife and destroying habitat out of vengeance. Since the last few weeks, Naxal movements have been seen in the buffer zone of Kanha Tiger Reserve around Mukki area. Most of the forest chowkies (posts) in these areas have been deserted by the forest department staff due to the fear of Naxalites! Having no tourist movement in the park will only help the Naxalites. Worse, there is always the fear of more jobless people getting pulled in Naxalism in the Naxal-affected regions.

The NTCA, through its revised guidelines circulated in November 2011, recommends establishing tiger safaris and other awareness infrastructure in the buffer zones of tiger reserves. Till date several States like Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Karnataka and Maharashtra have failed to yet delineate core and buffer zones in tiger reserves. The hon’ble Supreme Court expressed its displeasure over this and slapped a fine of Rs.10,000 on each State for failing to respond to its previous notice within a stipulated time period. If the NTCA is so much concerned about the core zones or critical wildlife habitats, why did it not pressurize the tiger reserves to notify such an important area? 

In the last two decades, the infrastructure for tourism has developed around the tiger reserves on a large-scale. Hundreds of resorts have been permitted to construct and operate their properties without any guidelines or restrictions; in some places to the extent of blocking vital wildlife corridors. While this is of grave concern, what was the MoEF doing all these years when this infrastructure was being created and threats pointed out by experts in several forums in the past? Which government department allowed this development? This privately owned tourist infrastructure is developed outside the boundaries of the tiger reserves. But what about the tourism infrastructure owned and operated by the forest department inside the critical tiger habitat? Few notable examples being Dhikala Tourism Complex inside Corbett Tiger Reserve, The ITDC Forest Lodge inside the Keoladeo National Park at Bharatpur, MPTDC Bagheera Loghuts in Kanha Tiger Reserve and the KTDC with Aranya Niwas and The Lake Palace inside Periyar Tiger Reserve. A striking example is Jhirna Forest Rest House in Corbett that has been converted into a canteen for tourists. The canteen, the operation of which is outsourced by the forest department to a private entity, serves snacks in non-biodegradable packaging, there are no sufficient waste bins, and non-biodegradable trash is littered everywhere. One can see so many rhesus macaques and common langurs feeding on these leftovers and at times attacking tourists. The story is not much different in case of Kanha and Bandhavgarh tiger reserves. Exercising strict rules is certainly in the hands of the forest department but was never followed within the forests they governed and managed despite several complaints by well meaning tourists and conservationists.

The eco-tourism guidelines propose to allow only 10-15% of the area of a PA for tourism. The guidelines also say that ecotourism will only be conducted in buffer areas instead of in core zones. As everyone knows, buffer areas in most PAs do not have a high density of wild animals and therefore the possibility of sighting wildlife is less. The WLPA permits grazing by cattle and collection of minor forest products in the buffer zones of tiger reserves. One can see huge herds of domestic cattle in buffer zones of many tiger reserves including the high profile Corbett, Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Ranthambhor tiger reserves. If the buffer zones are to be developed or utilised for tourism,  does it have any back up plan to ban or control cattle grazing in buffer zones as they compete with herbivores for the same habitat?

There could be many more such contradicting examples of lack of coordination, planning and proper management of tiger reserves between various government departments in the interest of wildlife conservation. The entire system has failed to enforce the existing laws and ensure conservation of tigers and other flagship species and their critical wildlife habitat. 

Banning tourism in core areas is certainly not a remedy to this mismanagement. Wildlife tourism cannot be singled out and blamed for all this mess created by the system. Instead of this blame game, the NTCA should engage in a serious dialogue with all concerned stake-holders and come at a viable and sustainable solution to sort the issue. ‘Controlled Wildlife Tourism’ is the key to this problem. Instead of a complete ban, wildlife tourism in an extremely controlled form should be permitted in some parts of the core areas. The infrastructure here should be bare minimum with no luxuries whatsoever but with clean facilities. The power generation should be only solar or biomass based, water should be harvested rainwater, strictly no use of polythene bags, battery-operated vehicles for safaris with a controlled speed limit should be used. 

Certain areas of buffer zones should be demarcated as wildlife tourism areas, where no cattle grazing and other forms of human disturbances to be allowed. Only then the resident wildlife will use these areas as habitat and the tourists will get the feel of being in a forest that is as good as a core area. Setting up of wildlife information / interpretation centres constructed on the principles of ‘green buildings’ should be encouraged and designed in such a way that every tourist have to visit these before entering the tiger reserves. Canteen facilities in the buffer zones should be strictly given only to the Self Help Groups formed by the local tribes and communities. NGOs should be involved in training these SHGs to run these facilities. Nature trails, photography hides, watch towers should be developed for providing good and educational wildlife experiences to tourists. The concept of Home Stays should be encouraged in the buffer zones.

While no further permission to be granted to new resorts within 5 km radius of the tiger reserves, the following guidelines should be in place to be followed by the existing private resorts:
  • All resorts must take care of at least 40% of their energy requirements through non-renewable sources like solar energy and biomass-based energy.  
  • Harvesting of rainwater and ground water recharge should be made compulsory with restrictions on drawing of ground water for use in resorts.
  • Strictly no form of loud music should be allowed in the resorts, except in sound-proof rooms.
  • Composting of kitchen and organic waste should be compulsory for every resort. Inorganic and non-biodegradable waste to be disposed off at least 5 km away from the buffer zone of the tiger reserve. A system should be developed for collection and dumping of this waste with the involvement of local gram panchayats or municipalities at an identified location that could be an old abandoned quarry or any other wasteland.
Wildlife tourism is an important tool that should be properly utilized for spreading awareness about tigers and other wildlife species among the people of India and the world. Watching of wildlife films on National geographic, Animal Planet and Discovery channels cannot be a substitute for actually seeing a tiger in the wild. The experience of sighting a tiger in its natural environment has changed many lives. Had many of our wildlife researchers, conservationists, environmentalists, park managers not seen a tiger in the wild or had no access to our tiger reserves, would they have been the same persons they are today? The wildlife has to be experienced to have a feeling for it. This passion and concern for wildlife cannot be obtained or developed by just watching films, however good they are.

The whole world is looking forward to the final judgement of the hon’ble Supreme Court of India on 22nd August. This judgement will have far-reaching consequences on the future of tigers and the tiger conservation movement of India. We can only hope that the judgement proves to be a win-win situation for all. 

The Corbett Foundation
01 August 2012 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Is awareness the answer?

Is awareness the answer?
by Zaara Kidwai, Programme Officer (Awareness), TCF Corbett

After completing my masters in wildlife, I realized that the only place I wanted to be was a jungle. It may seem odd to any normal person but it was the only thing that would make sense to me then. If asked, why jungles? I would say, “Because I want to conserve the forests; many animals rely on them.” The answer to that question for me is still the same, but I guess, the tactics have changed. At that time I was working from inside the forest, and now, I am working outside it.  

Presently, there are numerous researchers working on tigers, leopards and other large and small carnivores. I used to be one of them but I realized the other side has no clue of what we are doing inside the forest and, like me, many others realized that there is an urgent need to aware people of what kind of efforts we are putting into these jungles.

Out of the total population, approximately 90% of the people have no idea about the jungles they are living around and the rest 10% are fighting to save it. These 90% includes people from all tribes, villages and even cities.  Many educated and civilized people do not understand the concept of saving the forests even though they support “saving the tiger” campaign probably due to its commercial importance and timely advertisements. I bet if we ask them, they wouldn’t even know what the distribution of tiger around India is. The people I have met and asked still say Cheetah is the same as tiger or leopard; and I am talking about engineering and medical students here.

Awareness is more like telling stories; stories of food chain, continental drifts and presence of different animals in different areas and then threats that we are posing on to them. We tell the kids what we used to have and how it is being depleted. Some kids grasp it faster than the other, but then, that is the whole challenge of it. Doing a research is a difficult task no doubt, but the researcher knows what he want and gets his answers eventually. However, spreading awareness is a probability game; you may or may not get the answers you had expected but it will prepare you to plan your next level which could be tougher or easier than before. Raising awareness gets a lot more exciting when the kids actually remember what you taught them last time.

Entertainment media deserves a lot of credit for having channels like Discovery and Animal Planet which educate young minds about animals and their dependencies. Though there is also an option of changing the channel for those people whose attention the ugly looking monitor lizards or nasty moles could not grasp.
Knowing the intellect of people is a key to inspire them with one’s logic about saving wildlife and forests. But it totally depends on the people’s perception of how they would practice the teachings in their real life. So I again ask “is awareness the answer to conservation?” I guess to a certain degree it is. But then again, one cannot control someone else’s will. Hence, more stories need to be told and more efforts need to be made in order to get any results before which, we cannot assume that we are anywhere near conserving our mother nature.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Carnage near Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra

While international and national NGOs, National Tiger Conservation Authority, the World Bank, Global Tiger Initiative and Global Tiger Forum, and many others were taking a 'stock' of world's tigers in Delhi for the past 3 days, one more tiger out of this 'stock' was poached and chopped into pieces by barbaric human beings, whom we all know as 'poachers'. Another tiger has been ruthlessly killed near Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR), Chandrapur, Maharashtra. The poachers carried its head and paws and left the remaining body, cut into pieces around 15 km from TATR. The poachers are believed to be of Bahelia community of Katni, Madhya Pradesh. The poachers dared this heinous act when the Forest Department of the State has already issued a RED ALERT in the State in anticipation of tiger poaching incidents! What an irony of sorts! All those deliberations, articulate powerpoint presentations, discussions over cocktails and 5-star food over 3 days between world tiger experts, top-most forest officers, conservationists, scientists and NGOs, weren't enough to do what needs to be done...PROTECT EVERY TIGER in this country & the world, and at any cost. The Global Tiger Recovery Program aims to double the numbers of wild tigers by 2022. With all due regards to the prestigious organisations involved, it seems a very difficult task to achieve in India, unless the MoEF and respective State Governments take stringent steps.

Perhaps now a blame game will start in Tadoba...as the tiger was found dead outside the TATR, so is it from the tiger reserve or the surrounding forest division? A few transfers...maybe as 'punishment'. But will this solve the problem? Will this ensure safe haven for tigers in India's forests. In this case, however, the forest department has no choice but to accept this incident as a clear case of poaching. Had the body been intact, an autopsy would have been conducted and the post-mortem report would elaborate the cause of death in scientific terms, which would not make any sense to a lay man and certainly DOES NOT indicate the circumstances that lead to its death. It is highly shameful that despite a 'red alert' and 24X7 surveillance, the forest department could not prevent such an incident. Only two weeks ago, another tiger was killed in Tadoba by poachers. While the tigers in Protected Areas are relatively safe, they are under severe threat in the sink areas like territorial forest divisions and forest corridors. 

How many more tigers need to die untimely before common sense prevails and strict anti-poaching measures are taken by every State of this country? Why can't every tiger reserve have fully equipped tiger protection forces with sophisticated weapons, vehicles and trained commandos who can deal with any eventualities? Why can't the Kaziranga model that has successfully dealt with poachers, be implemented in other States? Are tigers (and other wildlife) in Maharashtra and other States less important than in Assam? Armed anti-poaching patrols must be stationed at all tiger reserves, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and the surrounding sink areas to deal with poachers and other mafias.

We ALL must unitedly let the governments know that we the PEOPLE of this country will not take such incidents lightly in future. The forest department MUST at any cost do whatever they can to protect the tigers and other wildlife in India's forests. Many of the tiger reserves now have enough machinery to deal with poachers and other anti-social elements; thanks to the generous donations raised through NDTV campaign and Wildlife Conservation Trust. The forest departments have now nothing really to crib about being ill-equipped and short staffed. Protecting wildlife is their job and duty, and they must do it with all sincerity.  If anyone lacks the necessary passion, vacate the seats for more deserving individuals who have the fire in their hearts. Any further nonsense and diplomatic explanations should not be tolerated. Enough is enough!

The Corbett Foundation strongly condemns this incidence and demands an urgent probe and strictest punishment to the guilty.

* picture courtesy: The Satpuda Foundation

Friday, March 2, 2012

25% additional forest land for infrastructure projects in India

As per the report in Hindustan Times dated Feb 22nd, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of India has agreed to divert additional 25% forest land that was earlier categorised as ‘no-go’ area for infrastructure projects like power, road, coal, etc. The decision was taken after a group of CEOs led by Mr. Ratan Tata met the Prime Minister of India and some of his Cabinet ministers. The Prime Minister’s Office promptly swung into action and within merely two weeks took a decision that will have a huge negative impact on India's forests and wildlife!

Knowing the Government of India’s penchant for ‘development’ and the Environment Ministry’s ‘efficiency’ to clear several industrial projects in some of the pristine Protected Areas of India, this news didn’t really shock me. With the country’s forests and wildlife already fragmented into small pockets, the decision to divert additional 25% forest area for developmental projects is certainly going to make matters worse. When the National Tiger Conservation Authority is pushing to control wildlife tourism to make tiger habitats inviolate, what justification does the Government of India have in giving away already scarce forest land that could well be a tiger habitat, an important wildlife corridor or a catchment for rivers? Once and for all, the MoEF must come out with a comprehensive policy clearly mentioning the existing ‘no-go’ areas and placing a moratorium on any further development in these areas, however important it may seem to be.

It is my fervent wish that the corporate sector should act more responsibly in future and avoid infrastructure projects in the ‘no-go’ areas. After all, infrastructure could be located elsewhere but species lost and ecosystems destroyed cannot be recreated.

Chairman, The Corbett Foundation

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Save Indian Bustards Campaign

The semi arid grasslands of Kutch in Gujarat are one of the few abodes of the critically endangered Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps), also known as the Great Indian Bustard. Though Kutch has been known for its second highest breeding population for this species, severe pressures of habitat loss due to unplanned industrialisation and agricultural encroachment over the past few years has resulted with a drastic decline in the population of this majestic bird. The population estimates reveal an estimated population of less than 30 birds in Kutch out of the total 300 birds surviving in the wild today. The Indian Bustard shares its habitat with other species of the bustard family – MacQueen’s Bustard (Chlamydotis macqueeni) and Lesser Florican (Spheotides indica), both vulnerable and endangered respectively as per the IUCN Red List.

All these 30-odd Indian Bustards survive in the Abdasa taluka of Kutch district. India has declared 13 sanctuaries for the protection of this bird. One of these, the Kutch Bustard Sanctuary spread over a mere 2 sq km, is located near Lala village near Naliya in Abdasa taluka. However, a major breeding population of Indian Bustards thrives outside the protected area, in Abdasa taluka. The areas outside this notified Protected Area serve as the breeding, display and wintering areas of these birds. Apart from the reasons of habitat loss as mentioned above, constant threat from uncontrolled cattle grazing over its potential habitat and occasional hunting by trigger-happy people is taking these birds closer to extinction. The Indian Bustard is included in Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of India.

It is extremely essential to stop and remove the encroachment from the important areas for GIB. Industrial projects cannot be sanctioned on the land used by Indian Bustards. The Corbett Foundation appeals to the State Government of Gujarat and the Ministry of Environment of Forests, Government of India to take immediate action to protect the Indian Bustard habitat and save this species from extinction in Gujarat. All local and national NGOs, bird-watchers, naturalists, conservationists, scientists and the people of India and the world must come together and in unison make the plea to save Indian Bustards. This might be LAST call to save this magnificent species from Gujarat.

Please sign this online petition and pledge your support to the cause

Thank you!