Fighting The Good Fight! India’s Modern-Day Freedom Movement
For almost four decades Sanctuary has been at the fulcrum of some of India’s best and least-known wildlife campaigns. Our purpose has been to inform and involve our readers and, through them, wider audiences on issues that threaten species, wildernesses and, all too often the very air, water and lands with which our lives are so inextricably linked.
While some of our campaigns have seen success and have resulted in positive change, many have had little or no impact on decision makers. This is not unusual. Those who have learned to extract short-term profit and cause long-term damage are a determined lot. Having said this, it has always been Sanctuary’s position that defending the planet is an article of faith and irrespective of the outcome, it is vital that battles are fought to defend what is precious. To coincide with Earth Day 2018, we therefore present Sanctuary readers with a glimpse of past campaigns together with quick updates on their status.
TIGER TEMPLE TAKEDOWN
Following an expose by National Geographic in 2016, Sanctuary launched its ‘Tiger Temple Takedown’ campaign, aimed at building awareness on the neglect, abuse and illegal trade in tiger parts at the hands of Thailand’s Tiger Temple and its planned offshoot – a ‘tiger zoo’.
The campaign was picked up by the global media and this resulted in a raid by officials, ending up in the confiscation of all of the monastery’s 147 tigers.
Subsequently, Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) inexplicably granted the Tiger Temple Co. Ltd. a permit for a ‘safari-style’ tiger attraction that would allow visitors to interact with tigers… basically a replication of the Tiger Temple misdemeanours.
This now becomes another campaign involving battles to prevent the ‘zoo’ animals from inhumane treatment — and the ‘leakage’ of tigers and other species into the transnational trade in endangered wildlife.
Together with several global NGOs, Sanctuary Nature Foundation continues to urge the Thai authorities to terminate the licence granted to the Tiger Temple for their offshoot zoo facility and will renew our campaign to target the Environment Minister of Thailand to demand that captive tigers be protected from further abuse.
We believe that united efforts from across the globe could affect tourism revenues to Thailand. This is probably the most realistic strategy to prevent profiteers from exploiting tigers, among the most charismatic animals in the world.
WHAT YOU CAN DO?
In 2016, the Tiger Temple Takedown campaign saw support pour in from across the world, with hundreds of well-informed wildlife lovers successfully requesting Thai authorities to take action against the Tiger Temple. With the current plans for a new zoo, we’re reviving the campaign. Please send an email to Thailand’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment requesting that:
1. The Golden Tiger (Thailand) Co. Ltd’s zoo license be revoked.
2. All of those involved in illegal wildlife trade at the Tiger Temple be prosecuted and tried in a court of law.
3. That Thailand meet its CITES treaty commitment and outlaws captive breeding of tigers.
You can write to:
General Surasak Karnjanarat,
Minister of Natural Resources and Environment
92 Soi Phohol Yothin 7, Phohol Yothin Road,
Sam San Nai, Phayathai
With a copy to:
Photo: Jyoti Sharma and Priya Mishra
In Mumbai, isolated pockets of wilderness struggle to purify our air, moderate our climate, protect watersheds and provide much-needed recreational space to the city-weary. Virtually an extension of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, the Aarey Milk Colony is a forest of immense worth, with free-ranging leopards living peaceably within its confines.
In recent days, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) seems to have declared war on all open spaces, so vital to the good health and happiness of citizens. Ignoring the critical ecological services that Aarey renders, the BMC has declared its intent to set up multiple projects that involve the large-scale felling of trees in roughly one-third of the Aarey Colony. This has caused citizen’s groups to unite in defence of one of the city’s most vital green spaces, which must be protected for posterity.
At the time of going to press, environmental organisation Vanashakti had filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Mumbai High Court, which had ordered that all necessary permissions be obtained before trees are cut for any proposed projects. In 2015, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) passed an order declaring status quo to be maintained in Aarey, which it pointed out had been notified as an eco-sensitive zone. Sanctuary, therefore, joined hands with citizen’s groups to launch the Save Aarey campaign to amplify the voice of the ‘Save Aarey’ Community’.
Protests were held, decision-makers petitioned, the authorities have been approached routinely, the media was activated and local communities are up in arms. Despite such efforts, the work for a metro car shed within Aarey’s green has begun. Stalin Dayanand, of Vanashakti, informed Sanctuary that the metro-car shed issue is being fought in five different cases, in separate courts. In his words: “The metro shed will cause an estimated loss of 4,000 trees. The government could easily save Aarey, but has chosen instead to bulldoze the forest.” The battle rages and Sanctuary urges its readers to join and support the determined individuals fighting this vital battle.
WHAT YOU CAN DO?
Lend your support to the cause by writing letters of protest against these ‘development’ projects to the Chief Minister, Maharashtra. Do make the following points:
1. The Aarey Milk Colony is an invaluable green lung of Mumbai and this forest hosts incredible biodiversity.
2. The Save Aarey Community has provided alternative options for the proposed metro yard.
3. The Aarey Milk Colony should be declared a ‘Buffer Zone’ to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and be preserved for future generations.
Address your letters to:
Shri Devendra Fadnavis
Chief Minister, Maharashtra,
Mantralaya, Mumbai – 400032.
Mr. Ajoy Mehta, IAS
Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai,
Municipal Head Office, Mahapalika Marg,
Mumbai – 400 001.
Photo: Samarjit Sharma
In 2017, on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar city, Odisha, the Sanctuary team learned of a herd of wild elephants caught in a simmering conflict with humans. The displaced pachyderms were being routinely harassed and abused as they wandered rural lands and degraded forests in search of food. The nearby Chandaka-Dampara Wildlife Sanctuary, the herd’s natal home, is far too small and degraded to support them. And so, for years now, they have sought refuge in islanded patches of wilderness in the Athgarh Forest Division. We were appalled to discover that mob of frenzied men, for sheer ‘entertainment’ have taken to chasing, harassing and abusing the elephants, hurling stones and sundry missiles at the herd, which includes young ones.
The ‘Giant Refugees’ campaign was aimed at bringing the situation to the attention of the Chief Minister of Odisha Shri. Naveen Patnaik. Social media was mobilised, several organisations, activists, school children and celebrities joined in and wrote letters. The media responded by highlighting the problem and its solutions. Nothing seems to have moved the Chief Minister, who has not bothered to respond despite almost a year of persistent effort on the part of citizens. This kind of condescension has far-reaching impacts on India’s democracy.
In yet another case of Human-Elephant Conflict, the Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) built a 2.2 km. long wall in 2011 to demarcate its site for a new township in the Deopahar Proposed Forest Reserve in Assam. Sanctuary discovered that the company had also cleared trees and flattened hillocks to construct a golf course in a declared No Development Zone. The wall has since caused the death of an estimated 12 elephants as they tried to negotiate the routes they needed to access food and water. In one tragic instance, a young male elephant died of severe haemorrhage after repeatedly ramming its head against the offending wall. (View the plight of the pachyderms here - Elephant Route Blocked in Deopahar, Kaziranga
RTI activist Rohit Choudhury, who has relentlessly pursued the matter, filed a case with the NGT against the company in 2015 and in 2016, the NGT ordered the demolition of the wall. The order was ignored. In support of Rohit Choudhary’s initiative, Sanctuary mobilised support for the elephants of Deopahar and people from across the country took to social media. Despite increasing pressure, as was the case with the elephants in Odisha, no relief for the elephants was forthcoming from the authorities.
In March, 2018, 366 days after the NGT order of 2016, and endless court proceedings, the district administration was forced to begin the demolition process. At the time of going to press, a mere 270-280 m. of the 2.2 km wall has been brought down. Though this must be regarded as a victory, the truth is that India ignores the voice of reason at its own risk. History will hold the likes of Rohit Choudhury in high regard, as we do the freedom fighters of yesteryear. For what is at stake in an era of climate change and vanishing biodiverse forests, is little other than a modern-day freedom movement against what must be described as inter-generational colonisation of young India’s air, water and land.
WHAT YOU CAN DO?
Share the link to the campaign video (available in Hindi and English) with Shri. Naveen Patnaik, the Chief Minister of Odisha. Ask him to take urgent action to protect the refugee elephants of Athgarh by:
* Directing police intervention to control mobs so that the elephants are allowed undisturbed passage.
* Setting up a task force to effect the restoration of the Chandaka-Dampara Wildlife Sanctuary, and to secure and revive its corridors to the Kapilas Wildlife Sanctuary and the Satkosia landscape in the state.
Send him an email at:
With a copy to:
Tweet to him @Naveen_Odisha with the hashtag #GiantRefugees.
About the NRL wall which is still standing, appeal to the Prime Minister, the Chief Minister of Assam, the Minister of Environment, Forests & Climate Change and State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) to order the immediate demolition of the wall adjacent to the Deopahar PRF & around the golf course and the restoration of the area, along with the suspension of all illegal activity in the area and the payment of a compensation fee for the destruction of prime forest land in a No-Development Zone.
You may address your letters to:–
Dr. Harsh Vardhan
Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change,
Indir Paryavaran Bhavan, Jorbagh Road
New Delhi – 110 003
Send a mail to
Also write to the:
State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA)
Bamunimaidam, Guwahati - 781021
Photo Courtesy: For representational purpose only/Public domain
In 2016, the poorly-managed Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Zoo (Byculla Zoo), part of the iconic botanical garden known as Jijamata Udyan, put eight exotic Humboldt Penguins on display. Conservationists argued that these birds, found in the wild only in Peru and Chile, would serve no useful purpose apart from entertaining humans.
Sanctuary’s campaign ‘Unhappy Feet’ urged authorities against the incarceration of exotic birds precisely because the initiative served no conservation purpose.
In the event, the penguins were flown in from halfway across the globe, and brought to a facility infamous for recording the highest captive-animal morality rate in the country. Sure enough, three months from the day they arrived, one of the penguins, an 18-month old female, died of a bacterial infection. For a while, this sparked a row between political parties and environmental groups, who were outraged that Rs. 50 crores were spent on a penguin project, while the city had more pressing issues that badly needed financial undertaking. Showing signs of increasing authoritarianism, the powerful chose to ignore protests and responded by quoting the sizeable revenues earned by the Jijamata Udyan to justify their decision.
WHAT YOU CAN DO?
Write to the Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai. Respectfully make the following points:
1. Humboldt's Penguins (and other exotic species) will not enhance the appeal of Rani Bagh, but will instead underscore our city's insensitivity towards wild species that cannot speak for themselves.
2. Improving the condition of existing enclosures and animals should be THE priority for authorities.
3. We don’t need imprisoned penguins or any wild animals in a zoo to impart nature education.
4. These birds must not be used to entertain bored citizens.
5. At a time when the entire state is in the grip of a cycle of floods and droughts, it is regressive to foist a transparently commercial projects in the city, which will pollute and waste thousands of litres of water each year.
6. It is regressive on the part of city planners to use captive animals for non-conservation purposes with no plan to ever breed and release them into the wild.
Address your letter to:
Mr. Ajoy Mehta, IAS
Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai
Municipal Head Office, Mahapalika Marg
Mumbai – 400 001
Or email him at
with a copy to
First published in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVIII No. 4, April 2018.