Shared Goals: Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) – The Future Of Conservation
Nature conservancies spearheaded by the private sector, and supported by the public sector, might just be critical to future conservation in India, writes Zoravar Gill.
We were on the property when we heard a bleating sound from the bushes. Wondering where a goat had come from, since the nearest village is some distance away, we walked towards the sound but were greeted with a rustle as the object of our curiosity made a getaway. This happened a couple of times through the night. Later, we heard from the patrol guards that the animal was a nilgai calf. Its calls attracted a tiger that duly appeared and carried the calf away. The law of the jungle had reigned supreme. It was proof enough that this once degraded, uncultivable land has been reclaimed by the wild. This was Nature’s stamp of approval on an unorthodox concept taking shape in Maharashtra.
When the Government of Maharashtra passed the Community Nature Conservancy Government Resolution in October 2015, they created a commercial incentive for private landowners to convert their lands into wildlife habitats. Instead of relying on farming for profitable use of their land, landowners can now develop them as extensions of neighbouring forests, attracting rich wildlife and practicing ecotourism in the process.
Private lands are home to much of the nation’s critical biodiversity. PPP provide for an economically sustainable model for owners of land alongside wildlife zones to be brought into the conservation fold, reducing human-animal conflict significantly in the process. Wild animals will now have access to a larger undisturbed, natural habitat while locals will be able to earn a livelihood based on ecotourism initiatives, an activity dependent on the conservation and well being of wildlife.
While governments have a crucial role to play in the protection of wildlife and biodiversity by drafting legislation, enacting laws and allocating funds to implement schemes, they do not have the resources to win the conservation battle alone. PPP enable the private sector and the government to pool their strengths for effective biodiversity conservation.
Photo: Camera trap@Guldaar.
The concept of allowing natural regeneration to restore a private land to wildlife habitat status can be seen in practice on a 101.6-acre land parcel in Chimur in the Chandrapur district of Maharashtra. A consortium of private individuals purchased the land from 17 non-tribal/project-affected persons owners who were keen to sell on account of it being uncultivable. Until then, the land had been used for cattle grazing, tree lopping and firewood collection – all of which are incompatible with conservation. The few waterbodies on the parcel were seasonal and seldom full.
The land was dry and barren to the extent that it was visible and easily navigable from one end to another. Small shrubs and stunted trees comprised the only vegetation. In the absence of any shade, water or flora, the land wore a very different look to the neighbouring forest. Needless to say, it was denuded of any resident wildlife.
Post-acquisition, the land was not put to any kind of commercial use. Instead, over a period of 12 months, four key measures were taken with the intention of restoring the land to its natural form.
First, saplings were planted across the land to thicken and extend green cover, and locals were employed to patrol the land round the clock. Second, the land was rid of wires and snares to facilitate safe passage for wild animals. Third, shrubs were protected to ensure that planted saplings grew to become young trees. Cattle were prevented from stomping on the ground throughout the monsoon, ensuring that dormant seeds emerged through the soft ground. Lastly, existing waterbodies were deepened to hold water perennially and combat with water shortage.
These activities prepared the land to fulfill the three key needs of wildlife – food, water and shelter. The presence of trees and shrubs is a draw for herbivores, which in turn attract the larger carnivores. Water is critical to wildlife for cooling and drinking, and its shortage in the summer months makes a perennial waterbody a strong attraction. Cover serves a critical function, as wildlife needs shelter for protection from natural elements, predators and a place to rest.
The outer periphery of the buffer area was also protected to ensure that the intermediate territory between the protected land and the forest core enjoys a protection for wildlife and habitat.
Soon after, there was a visible change in the landscape. The vegetation turned thick and green. It was hard to tell that this was the same parcel that had been barren a year ago. Camera traps were placed on the boundary adjoining the forest and near the waterbodies. Gradually, they began picking up visiting wildlife. Initially it was predominantly chital, sambar, nilgai and monkeys that were captured, but with the coming of summer, tigers, leopards, sloth bears and civets too started visiting to drink water and keep themselves cool. By analysing the images over a period, it was observed that some of them had become residents of the land.
Two years later, the dry fields have become lush meadows and the trees have shot up. Wildlife can be observed all year round. Sitting atop a machaan, one can observe wildlife and hear their calls on a regular basis. The land has truly become an extension of the neighbouring forest. Whether or not ecotourism opportunities are pursued, the potential to do so exist on this property named Guldaar (Hindi word for leopard).
In fact, recently a land survey was carried out on the property. The surveyors were setting up their equipment on one of the sites when a tiger emerged from the bushes and walked past them. Funnily enough, that ensured that an activity that was scheduled to take three weeks was completed in a couple of days!
In Tadoba’s buffer lies Tigress@Ghosri, a seven-acre piece of land that is owned by the founder trustees of the Tiger Research And Conservation Trust (TRACT). When they purchased the land 16 years ago, the property was barren. Like in the case of Tadoba, the land was protected from grazing and logging to ensure its regeneration.
Despite incurring minimal cost, the regeneration was swift and the results almost instantaneous. The land was soon green, dense and visited by tigers, leopards and sloth bears, even during the monsoon.
After regenerating the land completely, the owners began to practice ecotourism. While leaving 85 per cent of the land untouched, they built a guesthouse with four rooms and began hosting tourists. While game drives in the Tadoba National Park are a part of the itinerary, this experience is more holistic. Nature trails and walks, bird sightings and opportunities to hear early-morning animal calls are organised. Naturalists take guests butterfly spotting. Thus, safaris have become just one aspect of the experience, reducing the pressure on the forest core.
The local economy too benefits from this activity. The entire staff comprising naturalists, guards, patrol boys, and domestic help has been hired from the adjoining village, resulting in the creation of 20 local jobs. They have been trained to patrol, monitor large carnivore movement and create awareness about conservation in the community.
Photo Courtesy: SAI Sanctuary.
Save Animals Initiative (SAI)
Pioneers of this practice, the Save Animals Initiative (SAI) has transformed 300 acres of unused land in the Kodagu district of Karnataka into a thriving wildlife habitat, with coffee and cardamom plantations. They practice organic farming and run one of the few private sanctuaries in the country on solar and alternate energy.
The sanctuary is home to Bengal tigers, Asian elephants, hyaenas, leopards, sambars and 300 species of birds. It even has a river running through its heart that is home to fishes and snakes.
For ecotourism purposes, they have built cottages within the sanctuary that offer scenic views. Guests can have breakfast by the stream, undertake morning bicycle rides around the village and indulge in meandering walks within the sanctuary.
Private Sanctuaries, Public Good
For the longest time, conservation was viewed purely as a responsibility of the government. Today however, the role of external stakeholders is critical to support state initiatives. Private conservancies can contribute to the conservation process by allowing their lands to regenerate naturally into extensions of adjoining forests. The parcel does not need to be very large, and the regeneration process is not expensive. This makes every landowner a potential stakeholder.
If the private sector is to support government initiatives, the government must on its part make every effort to engage them effectively, primarily through regulatory incentives. Only then will one see large-scale participation from individuals, corporations and NGOs.
While environmental conservation and sustainability is a key outcome, it must be rooted in social upliftment. Besides conserving their land, owners must invest in the development and conservation of the surrounding ecosystem. A portion of the funds generated from ecotourism should be invested in vital services like healthcare and education for the neighbouring community. Locals should be trained and provided employment opportunities in the ecotourism business, and awareness created about the importance of maintaining biodiversity and sustainable agricultural practices.
This article analysed three PPP initiatives that have been undertaken with great success and argues that the model could be far more effective than any prior government schemes or legislation aimed at conservation.
It presents key findings from research conducted by the author. The author spent time on the ground at Project Guldaar and Tigress@Ghosri, interviewing the respective owners. Extensive coverage of SAI Sanctuary in Karnataka and views of government officials and residents of Chandrapur were also drawn from.
The Wildlife Land Trust has made great progress using the PPP model. The programme has 188 sanctuaries across Australia that have committed their resources and properties to conservation. The properties resemble miniature national or state parks but are privately owned and operated, committed to restoring and maintaining the unique biodiversity on these lands. Similar initiatives have been undertaken in other parts of the world too, from South Africa to USA and Chile.
Author: Zoravar Gill, First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVI No. 12, December 2016.