International Tiger Day: Here’s Valmik Thapar’s wishlist for the big cat | analysis | Hindustan Times
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International Tiger Day: Here’s Valmik Thapar’s wishlist for the big cat

On global tiger day, here’s a wishlist for the big cat so that those who engage with tigers rethink and review their strategies.

analysis Updated: Jul 29, 2017 13:35 IST
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There are many days every year meant to recognize various causes—from Earth Day to the upcoming World Animal Day. But International Tiger Day marked on July 29 is one worth observing, as only a few thousand tigers remain in the wild as a result of animal poaching and trafficking, according to a United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report. (Himanshu Vyas / HT Photo)

The global tiger day was created to think of the needs of a wild tiger. Sadly we have forgotten this primary objective. What I am going to do is to spell out the Indian tiger’s wishlist in the hope that those that engage with tigers will rethink and review their strategies.

The most important item on the wishlist is to see a mindset change in the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) where this specially created institution starts to imbibe field wisdom about wild tigers through innovative strategies on both protection and tourism. Tigers love well-managed visitors. They keep the forest staff on alert and can provide vital information on illegal grazing, wood felling and poaching. After all, there are hundreds of more eyes and ears looking and hearing. In places where tourism is low, tigers have suffered hugely. The NTCA must learn to respect site-specific initiatives of state governments that can through tourism revenue make our tiger reserves self sufficient. This in turn provides field directors to undertake vital protection work without bureaucratic delays. The NTCA in the last decade has discouraged tourism and endlessly interfered with state government policy seriously impacting the health of tigers. Managing tigers is a state subject and the NTCA must be in the role of facilitator and not policeman.

The chief wildlife wardens of the states are vital to the tigers’ wishlist. They need to take bold and innovative decisions that inspire the field staff. They need to engage with local communities in the effort to protect tigers. They need to ensure that all vacant positions are filled and chief ministers engaged with all the issues that confront wild tigers. State-of-the-art training is an essential element in the quality of governance that is needed to protect tigers. Retired army officers can instruct on field craft, retired intelligence officials on gathering intelligence on poachers and their syndicates. Our country can offer the best talent to secure the future of wild tigers.

Inter-state cooperation is vital to good governance and even more important than linking up with the central government. Rajasthan has held such a meeting with Maharashtra so that both can imbibe best practices from each other. Choose forest staff with care. Good decisions are made by those who spend time understanding tigers. Ignorant decisions damage the future of tigers. The four or five big NGOs must revitalise their thinking and prevent duplication. Focus on specific trouble spots and solve problems with tactical help to the forest staff. Do not beat your own drum. Partner with local communities. The future of tigers will lie in how communities engage in protection. The time for sweet talking them is over. Gather the young and train them into tiger protectors.

All this requires strong political will. Tigers need chief ministers at their side. Their instructions are vital to innovative initiatives and this is where strong partnerships between the government and non-governmental sector can trigger the necessary political will. Frequent meetings of the state board of wildlife that chief ministers chair are vital to resolving the tigers’ problems.

The Prime Minister of the country must play his role for the sake of our national animal. The Prime Minister chairs the national board for wildlife and frequent meetings are a must. The full board has not met for four years. This is the moment to meet and the best experts must apprise the Prime Minister of the tigers’ needs.

These are the five points on the wish list of India’s wild tigers. And who says it is not possible? Rajasthan has shown the way. Under the supervision of the chief minister, the Ranthambhore tiger reserve has shown the highest amount of tigers ever now touching 65 with the highest tourist revenue now touching 4 million dollars just on entry ticket revenue. It has some of the best local community monitoring and protection and a genuine partnership with field forest staff. It has the best tourism practices and regular monthly meetings of an empowered committee that reports back to the chief minister. For the first time ever, extra tourism revenue is going to new tiger habitats that suffered tremendously due to limited funds.

Where there is a will there is a way. It is up to all of us to make it the day of the tiger.

Valmik Thapar has worked for 42 years with wild tigers. He has also written 30 books on India’s tigers and wildlife