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Tiger Conservation at Bandhavgarh
by Anil Thakuri

Photo of Tiger Under a Tree -   Gideon Egger 2004. Taken at Bandhavgarh National Park, India, March 2002

Saving wild tigers requires preserving and protecting large areas of land in nature reserves, while at the same time there is a never-ending demand for productive farmland in this overpopulated world. Yet we have made the tiger a symbol of global conservation and have been trying to save tigers for so many years, even as so many other problems and issues demand our attention.

Ecologists-who study the earth's ecosystems-suggest that the plant and animals communities that share our planet are interlinked, so that the loss of a single species may have unpredictable and dangerous consequences for all of us.

The same forest that shelters the tiger also harbors millions of plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. So saving the tiger really amounts to saving the entire ecosystem.

Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in Central India is still one of the last few reserves with a healthy habitat and healthy tiger population, though like other reserves, it is not without its problems--human encroachment being perhaps the most serious as the population explodes in and around the park. This increased population puts severe pressure on the reserve, visible in the form of over-grazed land in the farms around the park--causing the villagers to graze their cattle within the park itself, and to convert the park's wild life habitat into farmland-and the harvesting of forest products, especially firewood. Moreover, the villagers have taken to surrounding their farms with high-voltage electric fences in order to protect their livestock. This has led to the electrocution deaths of many wild animals, including tigers.

Photo of School Children from Village Outside of Bandhavgarh-   Gideon Egger 2004. Taken March 2002

As humans and wildlife have coexisted for centuries, so there must be a workable solution to these problems and just being tough on the villagers is not a good idea. The villagers' lives still revolve around the forest: gathering firewood, bamboo and grasses to build and thatch their houses; collecting forest products, such as Tendu leaves (Indian Ebony tree) and selling these to supplement their incomes. Depriving the villagers of these products will only create resentment against wildlife and the government and NGO's enforcing these bans. Conversely, providing compensation for crops and livestock lost to wildlife, should make the villagers more flexible. Getting the villagers involved in conservation and improving their standard of living is a better, and more sustainable, way to make a difference. Improving agricultural productivity, upgrading to superior breeds of livestock, providing fuel sources as an alternative to firewood, helping with children's education, all represent non-punitive opportunities to improve the interaction between human populations and wildlife. Ultimately, we must help to teach the villagers to understand and appreciate, both philosophically and practically, that a live tiger is worth much more than a dead one.

Anil Thakuri

Anil ThakuriOriginally from Bhutan, Anil Thakuri has lived and worked in Bhutan, Nepal, India, and the United States. An expert naturalist, he was the tiger tracker for the filmmaker, Carol Amore's Tigers - Tracking a Legend, and the Tiger Foundation's Imax tiger movie.  

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