In our last post, we talked about tigers. Here, we’ll share some more thoughts about how tiger conservation programs (and other conservation programs) can be created successfully.
We went to the Nature Conservation Foundation to find out about conservation in India. We left after learning about many other things, too: science; government policy; climate change; and working with local people.
It’s hard to sum up such a rich conversation, but there were two key ideas.
– Conservation should be based on science. Without scientific data, conservationists may mean well, but their actions may not have the impact they want.
– Conservation policies should be created in harmony with local people. Policies that tell local people what they can’t do — without considering the impact on those local people — are likely to fail.
How to be a Conservationist
MD Madhusudan (Madhu) and three young friends met 21 years ago. Trained as scientists, they set out to explain the world through science. They went to remote areas: mountains, oceans and forests.
But the environmental impacts they studied in all these places were from one species: humans. So they started looking at how humans interact with the environment. And then, they wanted to do something about it.
Now they work on programs all over India. They investigate problems and causes. They work to understand people’s attitudes. They intervene by creating partnerships with local people. And they stay with projects long-term, to measure success.
To Begin: Understand the Problem
First, when starting a conservation program, it’s important to understand the problem. For example, there are two areas where tigers disappeared in India: Sariska Tiger Reserve and Keladevi Sanctuary (adjacent to Ranthambhore, where we saw a wild tiger). According to Madhu, you could just put solutions in place to protect tigers… but they might be the wrong solutions.
Here’s why: In Sariska, prey for the tigers was plentiful. The problem was poachers. But in Keladevi, local livestock had overrun the park, and tigers had lost their prey. The problem in Keladevi was food for the tigers, and conflict with local people. So in areas where tigers are threatened, the potential solutions may be very different.
Work With Local People
A major problem with large wildlife is that it creates lots of difficulties for local people — like restrictions on areas of forest, livestock being killed, and attacks on people. How is it possible to save wild animals, like tigers, when they can cause such difficulties?
Amazingly, according to Madhu, people in India have shown their willingness to live in harmony with wild, dangerous animals such as tigers, leopards and elephants. Understanding people’s attitudes toward wildlife is key. People in India don’t hate elephants and tigers — mostly, they respect them. But they do cause real problems.
NCF realized that it can’t do conservation without also helping address these problems. By using this approach, they, and other conservation groups, have had some successes. Here are just a couple of examples:
Problem: Tigers Preying on Livestock
When they stray from their reserves, tigers sometimes go after people’s livestock — sheep, cows, horses, goats — in search of food. People may then try to kill the tigers to protect their livestock.
Tigers may leave reserves for different reasons: lack of prey, or too many tigers in one area. And, even within their own territories, tigers may encounter livestock that have come there to graze.
So, to deal with predators, like tigers, NCF has worked with villagers on better fencing for protecting livestock. They’ve helped farmers fence in areas so they can grow feed crops for their animals to graze, instead of letting them loose to graze. In some areas, NCF has also started community-based compensation programs — sort of like having insurance for your livestock, so if an animal is killed by a tiger, the farmer gets paid.
Problem: Cooking Fuel
Although it isn’t an NCF project, Madhu shared another great example. In Bandipur, there are thousands of families living near the forest, and the average family was collecting about 3 tons of firewood each year. This was taking a huge toll on the forest as a habitat for wildlife, including tigers. The government protected the forest, which cut off the primary source of firewood for villagers.
Solution: LPG Stoves
So, an organization called Namma Sangha provided LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) stoves to villagers at a reduced cost. LPG stoves are healthier for people’s lungs than cooking over fire. And, instead of gathering firewood, people now have more time to earn additional income. Now, more than 17,000 families participate in the program. (If that many families stop collecting firewood completely, that could mean 50,000 tons of forest preserved each year.)
Madhu reminded us that some conservation problems come, not from criminals, but from honest, decent people doing reasonable things. It’s easy for urban people to be concerned about saving wild animals. But sometimes they overlook how someone else bears the cost of that conservation — like lost livestock, or lack of fuel to cook.
NCF is working hard to understand both sides of the equation, and hopefully, by respecting the needs of people, conservation can go hand-in-hand with programs that help people, too.
Study Guide Questions
1. What are the 2 key conservation principles we learned from MD Madhusudan?
2. True or False: All of the problems with loss of tigers in India have been caused by poachers.
3. Why would a tiger leave a nature reserve?