Friday, August 3, 2012

India's Highest Court Bans Tiger Tourism

In a decision many are calling too harsh, the Supreme Court of India banned tourists from entering the core area of all tiger reserves in the country. With India being home to half of the global population of tigers, this means, India will be facing a major setback in number of travelers coming to the country to particularly see the tigers.
The court’s decision came after few of the tiger states failed to demarcate buffer zones and core areas even after the court ordered them to do so three months ago.
“Why tourism should be allowed in core areas of tiger reserves,” a bench of justices Swatanter Kumar and Ibrahim Kalifulla asked, while noting the tiger was on the verge of extinction.
The bench also warned of contempt proceedings and imposition of exemplary costs on states which failed to notify the buffer zones in their respective tiger reserves.
“We make it clear that till final directions are issued by this court, the core zones or core areas in the tiger reserves will not be used for tourism,” the bench said in its order.
The court slammed Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Maharashtra and Jharkhand for failing to have notified the buffer zones despite earlier directions.
The SC also imposed a fine of Rs 10,000 on each defaulting state. However Arunanchal Pradesh and Jharkhand informed that they were ready with the notifications and would submit it to the court.
The court also strictly warned the defaulting states that if they were not able to submit the required documents within three weeks, the principle secretary of forest of the respective states will have to hand out a fine of Rs. 50,000 each.
The Supreme Court’s concern on the commercialization of tiger reserves of India has been ongoing for quite a few months now, with the court also ordering recently a 10 percent of all commercial activity fee to be handed over for conservation of the tiger area.
During the last hearing on July 10, the SC had granted two more weeks “as last opportunity” to states which had defaulted in notifying buffer zones around tiger reserves.
Rajasthan’s counsel had told the court during the last hearing that the state had already notified the zone.
On April 4, the apex court had asked Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra to notify the zones within three months.
Under Section 38(b) and Explanation 1 & 2 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the states have to notify the list of core and buffer areas of tiger reserves in their respective jurisdiction.

What is a buffer zone

Any national park is set up primarily to protect a particular species and its habitat. In order to do so, the core area is the innermost area where the animal lives in its own terms without any interference from humans. The only personels allowed in this area are the forest officers. This core area is where the species live a truly wild existence.
Next outer periphery of the core area is the buffer zone which is spread upto a distance of 10 km. Here human activities are allowed. Villagers and tribals living within the forest range are allowed to gather resources of the forest from this area. But  the area is also frequented by the wild animals. If it basically this area where tourists too can come and observe wildlife.
The Indian tiger states have been not strictly demarcating the core and the buffer area allowing tourists to venture right into the den of the tiger. The Supreme court’s verdict therefore is to stop these kind of activites and allow the big cat to live the wild life it deserves.

Will the Restriction help?

Experts feel that the Court’s verdict is too harsh and it not only leads to loss of tourist revenue but also hinders conservation. Many feel that frequent tourist presence in forests ensures that the tigers are constantly spotted and kept safe. Forest guards too are more vigilant when tourists are around. Poachers are naturally discouraged to enter areas where chances of getting caught by tourists or officers are maximum.
With ban on tourism in core areas, the poachers might actually fearlessly venture into these areas.  The forest departments of many states are already in dire need of more forest rangers, and officers. Without the indirect help they get from observant travellers, their task to check the safety of tigers becomes a lot more challenging.
Conservationists feel that the strict regulation of tiger zones and tourism are definitely the need of the hour, but banning tourism altogether is core areas is not the solution.
Presently most of the tiger reserves in the country are closed down for the monsoon season and will re-open in Spetember end or October. The SC has scheduled a hearing on the present case again, before October, so hopefully the decision will be re-evaluated.
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Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Man who Made a Forest

Nothing is simpler than planting a tree and yet not many really pick up the spade to toil under the sun and nurture a plant. That is why what Jadav Payeng has been doing for the past 30 years is incredible. He has not only made tree plantation a life time hobby but converted a barren land into a lush green 550 hectare forest in Assam which is now home to five tigers.

Jadav was 16 year old when he first realized the need to plant a tree. A flood had left hundreds of reptiles dead in his sandbar and the teenager was grief stricken.

“The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage . I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo. It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me. Nobody was interested,” he recalls.

The teenager was so moved that he left home and his school and started living in the sandbar in middle of the great river Brahmaputra. The indifference of others did not deter Jadav. He had true faith in his belief that one tree at a time could save the snakes and other animals he had began to love so much. He watered the plants morning and evening and pruned them. After a few years, the sandbar was transformed into a bamboo thicket.

“I then decided to grow proper trees. I collected and planted them. I also transported red ants from my village, and was stung many times. Red ants change the soil’s properties . That was an experience.
“After 12 years, we’ve seen vultures. Migratory birds, too, have started flocking here. Deer and cattle have attracted predators.”
The best reward Jadav received for his 30 years of nature nurturing was when predators began getting attracted to the forest he had created. Because of the abundant population of prey like deer and cattle, Tigers found Jadav’s forest very inviting. Presently five tigers have been known to visit the man-made ecosystem

Late Recognition
It was not until a herd of elephants paid a visit to the sandbar in 2008 that the forest department finally sat up and took notice of the incredible work Jadav had done for Mother Nature.

Assistant conservator of forests Gunin Saikia met Payeng for the first time.

“We were surprised to find such a dense forest on the sandbar. Locals, whose homes had been destroyed by the pachyderms, wanted to cut down the forest, but Payeng dared them to kill him instead. He treats the trees and animals like his own children. Seeing this, we, too, decided to pitch in,” says Saikia. “We’re amazed at Payeng. He has been at it for 30 years. Had he been in any other country, he would have been made a hero.”

But the department is now supporting him with their experience and knowledge. Congressman Bijoy Krishna Handique too is keen to convert the area into a protected forest region under India’s Wildlife Protection Act.

The forest has been named “Molai’s Woods”, after Payeng’s pet name.

He has a simple message to share,

“Nature has made a food chain; why can’t we stick to it? Who would protect these animals if we, as superior beings, start hunting them?”

India’s Endangered salutes this lone eco-warrior.

Visit Molai’s Woods
If you would like to help or pay a visit to Molai’s Woods the place lies in Jorhat, some 350 km from Guwahati by road. At one point on the stretch, a smaller road has to be taken for some 30 km to reach the riverbank. There, boatmen will ferry you across to the north bank. A trek of another 7 km will then land you near Payeng’s door.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Asia's First Dolphin Research Centre to come up in Bihar

The Gangetic River Dolphins, one of the four only surviving freshwater dolphins of the world, is soon to get more protection, thanks to the conservationists who plan to set up India and Asia’s first dolphin research centre in Patna in Bihar.

The man behind this initiative is RK Sinha, more popularly known as the dolphin man. Sinha has played a pivotal role for many years now in highlighting the depleting number of Ganga river dolphins, or Gangetic dolphins in India and has been working tirelessly for the protection and conservation of the species.

Sinha is the chairperson of the working group for dolphin conservation set up by the central government and said that the planning commission proposed the idea of the research centre which has been approved by the state government.

India’s national aquatic animal

Not many know that Gangetic dolphins are India’s national aquatic animal. They once were found in thousands swimming across Ganga and Brahmaputra and their tributaries. But poaching and habitat destruction have led to decrease in number of the dolphins in the last few decades.

Presently the dolphin population in India is estimated to be merely 2000 with a major chunk present at the Vikramshila Dolphin sanctuary in Bhagalpur distirct of Bihar. Spread across 50 km over the Ganges, the sanctuary is doing well in restoring the population of the unusual blind dolphins.

Gopal Sharma, a scientist with the Zoological Survey of India here, said the centre would carry out research activities on the dolphin and also conduct a census in rivers in Bihar.

Carcasses of the dolphin are regularly found along the river bed. It is believed that poachers kill these mammals for their oil used for fishing and for medicinal purposes.

The Gangetic river dolphin is one of the four freshwater dolphin species in the world. The other three are found in the Yangtze river in China, the Indus river in Pakistan and the Amazon river in South America.
With the research centre, the dolphin’s future might not be extinction after all.