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Tiger man of India, Rajesh Gopal, says he is quite optimistic about tiger conservation

Rajesh Gopal has been closely associated with ‘Project Tiger’ in India for almost 35 years. As a former member of the Indian Forest Service, he was the director of several tiger-rich reserves in central India like Kanha and Bandhavgarh for over a decade. Currently, he is working as secretary general of Global Tiger Forum, an international body which highlights the rationale for tiger preservation, provides leadership and utilises a common approach throughout the world in order to safeguard the survival of the tiger.

pune Updated: Aug 09, 2018 15:17 IST
Ashish Phadnis
Ashish Phadnis
Hindustan Times, Pune
Tiger Man of India,Rajesh Gopal,tiger conservation
Rajesh Gopal. (HT PHOTO)

Rajesh Gopal has been closely associated with ‘Project Tiger’ in India for almost 35 years. As a former member of the Indian Forest Service, he was the director of several tiger-rich reserves in central India like Kanha and Bandhavgarh for over a decade. Currently, he is working as secretary general of Global Tiger Forum, an international body which highlights the rationale for tiger preservation, provides leadership and utilises a common approach throughout the world in order to safeguard the survival of the tiger.

Known as the ‘Tiger Man of India’, Gopal was in Pune to interact with the audience during the ongoing Wildlife Film Festival organised by Nature Walk. On the sidelines of the festival, he spoke to Ashish Phadnis about various issues affecting tiger conservation. Excerpts.

As per the last tiger census in 2014, there were 2,226 tigers in India. The latest census is yet to be announced, what is your view about tiger conservation in India?

It will be too early to comment on the number as it will take six months from now to reveal the numbers. I feel we should not go by the numbers and feel quite optimistic about tiger conservation in India. The situation in east Asian countries is far worse. In Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, no tigers are left. Thailand and Myanmar are trying to protect the tiger, but there is a need to raise regional projects. Cambodia is asking for tigers from India as they want to revive the species in their country. But just taking a tiger won’t solve the issue, they need to develop a wider prey base and it needs special efforts.

What should be the long-term planning for tiger conservation?

There are several issues which are needed to be addressed. First is the sex ratio of tigers. If the number of male tigers increase, it’s not a good sign, they will eventually get wiped out. For a normal healthy sex ratio, there is a need to develop a systematic plan, where forests are interlinked, a safe corridor is provided for the tiger to migrate to another place. Another issue is cross border trafficking. The recent targets are elephants and rhinos and there is huge demand for tiger body parts. Bilateral agreement between countries is quite important and should be done on priority. There are talks about relocating tigers from one forest to another. But I don’t think it’s an answer for long-term development. It may be an immediate answer for addressing any regional issue. But it’s a superficial attempt. We need to arrest the basic issue.

There is a constant struggle between development and conservation and it’s ultimately resulting into man-animal conflict. What is your view about it?

I am not against development. Conservation and development can be achieved together if there are certain plans behind it. As per my view, avoiding the conflict is the best solution. If a road needs to go through the tiger reserve, there should 99 per cent effort to find an alternative route. Mitigation, underpasses, overbridges are fine, but basically we should avoid development entering in the premises of conservation. In Malaysia, they are developing a central spine project. They have given importance to the natural forest area and are developing along it.

First Published: Aug 09, 2018 15:17 IST