Update: The Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT) currently works in 100 National Parks and Sanctuaries of India across 17 states. With over 3.5 million people living inside tiger reserves and several hundred million dependent on natural ecosystems, we cannot separate communities from conservation. Thus, WCT lays equal emphasis on wildlife conservation and community development. As part of its capacity-building initiative with forest staff, almost 3,000 officials have been trained in wildlife crime enforcement. Working closely with the department, WCT has equipped 1,600 Anti-poaching Camps in over 60 Protected Areas and provided multi-utility rescue vehicles to 43 parks. WCT’s community interventions have benefitted countless villagers. Almost 4,000 young people have been trained in various vocational skills, 1,64,000 villagers have been treated at health camps and 59,000 students have been reached through our education intervention. WCT also conducts research and monitoring exercises to estimate tiger and prey densities and help devise more robust wildlife management strategies. For more on WCT’s work, visit www.wildlifeconservationtrust.org.
The Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT), a Mumbai-based public charitable organisation, has been set up to support the work of government and non-government organisations and individuals who are protecting wildlife and wildernesses across India. WCT believes that natural ecosystems are the backbone of India’s water, food, climate and economic security and it sees its own mandate as supplementing, not replacing, the inputs of wildlife NGOs and the Central and State Governments in in shoring up the defences of our Protected Area (PA) network.
Save for notable exceptions, such as Kaziranga and a handful of other high profile PAs, virtually all state Forest Departments are understaffed, inadequately trained and some are short of even basic resources. WCT is attempting to fill such resource gaps by making available funds to equip, train and motivate the field staff of sanctuaries, national parks and tiger reserves.
In the long run, WCT suggests, strengthening forest ecosystems will end up helping India to mitigate and adapt to the worst impacts of climate change. Towards this end, a three-pronged approach has been taken by the trust: 1. Add to the protection by donating vehicles and state of the art equipment for anti-poaching camps and forest outposts. 2. Provide occupational skill-training to young, unemployed people living outside PAs so that they look away from forests for livelihoods. 3) Help improve relationships and communication between the Forest Department and local communities living outside PAs by assisting communities in the area of health and education.
As of now WCT has a pan-India presence and a working relationship with officials of Forest Departments in 24 PAs, in 14 Indian states.
WCT support for forest staff has manifested itself in the shape and form of patrolling-cum-rescue vehicles, survival kits (to enable staff to survive for up to four days in an emergency), specially-designed, lightweight carnivore-trapping cages to reduce injuries, integrated solar-charging systems, cooking gas cylinders and water filters for anti-poaching camps and forests outposts. Additionally, equipment including bicycles, winter jackets, all-weather shoes, raingear, camp beds, metal trunks (so that food and clothing is safe from rodents!) and clothing that is appropriate to the area where our foot soldiers must work.
WCT has also just begun to provide training to forest staff, including senior staff such as Forest Rangers and seeks to work at capacity building for new recruits as well. The training modules are being planned by appointed experts in their fields, which includes crowd-control (vital during animal rescues), tranquilising, handling man-animal conflict situations. Apart from empowering staff, the objective is to give them a sense of confidence and pride in the vital job they are undertaking.
To motivate field forest staff, funds have been allocated for the WCT Wildlife Service Awards for which associated agencies including the police, eco-development committees and NGOs are eligible. The management of the park is involved in the selection of recipients and thus far awards have been distributed in Gir, Ranthambhore, Kanha and Pench (Madhya Pradesh). Other PAs await the selection process and the award ceremonies will take place in the months ahead.
WCT has also been conducting and supporting consultations and workshops on various aspects of wildlife conservation across the country. These have attracted some of the most engaged individuals and organisations ranging from politicians, forest officials, wildlife biologists, wildlife NGOs, naturalists, corporates, journalists, film-makers, teachers and students.
Additionally, WCT believes that ‘social fencing’ around forests is a critical strategy for the long-term conservation of natural ecosystems. Currently antagonism between communities and park authorities is the order of the day but this situation has to change and WCT is attempting to create channels of communication between parks and people to the extent it can.
In association with the Hemendra Kothari Foundation (HKF), a sister organisation, WCT holds medical camps in remote villages around PAs. In just 2010-11, WCT reached medical treatment to as many as 50,000 individuals living on the periphery of 14 PAs including Mudumalai, Kanha, Ranthambhore, Sariska, Gir, Bandhavgarh, Pench (Madhya Pradesh), Pench (Maharashtra), Melghat, Tadoba-Andhari, Bandipur, Nagarahole, Corbett and Dudhwa. This contact, WCT feels, builds bridges of trust, which helps not only to reach conservation objectives to people, but also peoples’ issues to PA managers. All such health interventions are conducted in close association with the Forest Department.
Another key community intervention from both WCT and HKF is vocational training. This is imparted largely to unemployed young men and women around PAs in the hope that this might throw up livelihood options away from the forest. To further this initiative, the HKF is also looking now to create linkages between trained individuals and prospective employers in cities and towns. Some livelihood options are likely to be available right next to the PAs for those who opt for training as naturalists and guides and for skilled labour such as forest-fire fighting, removal of exotic weeds and possibly as guards as well. In recent months, WCT has been encouraging villagers to move away from chemical to organic agriculture and is now exploring how to help organise marginal farmers into cooperatives that can benefit from ‘ecosystem farming’, which would reduce pressures on the forest, help mitigate climate change, reduce man-animal conflict and provide some sustained income.
WCT is also the implementation partner for the Aircel-NDTV ‘Save Our Tigers’ campaign. As part of the recent campaign a 12-hour Tigerthon was held on December 12, 2011. This won massive public support and a sum of over Rs. 4.5 crores was raised from a large number of supports for wildlife protection – in one day. Of this, Hemendra Kothari put up Rs. 2.5 crores in his personal capacity. These funds are being utilised in consultation with the Chief Wildlife Wardens and Project Tiger Field Directors of 23 critical tiger habitats who will receive Rapid Response Kits (RRK) that will help their staff to speedily and effectively tackle a range of emergencies from poaching, fires and man-animal conflicts. Each such RRK comprises around 30 carefully selected pieces of equipment, including a customized four-wheel-drive vehicle, three motorcycles, six emergency survival kits (including for snake bite, bullet injuries), personal protection gear, binoculars and GPS’.
WCT operates in coordination with Forest Departments. It also avails of advice from some of the leading wildlife experts of India. And it has a trained set of people working for it who are dedicated to the proposition that protecting wildlife is in India’s national interest. Their mandate is to implement practical, scalable and replicable interventions. That sounds like very good news for wildlife in India.
For more information write to:
Dr. Anish Andheria, Wildlife Conservation Trust
11th Floor, Mafatlal Center, Nariman Point, Mumbai 400021.
Tel: (022) 492 55555
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXI. No. 3, June 2011.