The future of a troubled species.

I had saved this article and this photograph for the event of Global Tiger Day
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As we know Tigers are in grave danger and in need of tremendous conservation efforts and support. But the problem is that the Tiger has remained trapped within, a vocal minority of saviors and between people who could never connect with the reality of its last plight and moreover those who won’t speak up even after their immense love and admiration of the being.

I believe that India has a vast majority of people who admire the Tiger as our national animal, who don’t want to watch them go, but at the same time they don’t know how they can help and make a difference in the conservation efforts. My article “The Future of a Troubled Species” seeks to address exactly that.
I am no Tiger expert/conservationist/scientist etc., just a 19 year old amateur nature and wildlife photographer and this is what I have gathered through my experience and knowledge from people, books, media and observation.

Please do give it a read till the very end. And your inputs, critique as well as opinions both positive and negative are welcome and appreciated.

I did submit to many magazines thinking the article may reach a larger body, but all of them declined for reasons as “This does not suit our general entries”. No problem I never have and never will doubt the power of social media as a driver for change.

So here it is and once again, hope you read till the very end.

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Suyash Keshari
The Future of a Troubled Species
July 29, 2015

Looking at some shots taken in Bandhavgarh a few months ago I feel blessed to be able to document the behavior of the future generation of a much troubled and endangered species. I am so lucky to have seen a few of the 1700~ or so Tigers left in the increasingly diminishing wild wonders of India. But its sad that their future is so uncertain and so bleak, yet their present for the moment so innocent, bountiful and unhindered.

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Cubs seem to be flourishing in all the famous reserves- Ranthambore, Tadoba, Bandipur, Corbett, Pench, Bandhavgarh and Kanha. Looking at all these cubs in different national parks, one may feel – Tigers are doing well, they are reproducing well and their population is on the rise. Sure the tiger numbers are on a slight rise given the reproductivity of the current period, but where are these additional numbers of Tigers supposed to go given India’s rapid demand for land and resources and ever increasing pressure from the population. To top that he complete neglect and lack of knowledge of the natural world by the government fuels the burning world of Tiger. Surely ruthless development is the one and only agenda of the Modi administration or any other government entity that there is. Indicative as it is from the projects of development they don’t seem to care about corridors, widening of NH7 for instance that passes right through the Kanha-Pench corridor . At present, the landscape between Kanha and Pench provides by far the most promising biological linkage in central India. Starting from Kanha, the corridor moves westwards, turns south for some distance and again continues westwards to join the Pench Tiger Reserve. More highways such as NH212 and NH766 in the Western Ghats and NH37 in Kaziranga, pass right through Tiger habitats and corridors. And as if that was not enough, a new highway has been proposed that would cut right through the prison forests of Sariska. The park had once already suffered a miserable fate wherein the lapses of conservation led to the disappearance of every single Tiger, at the hands of ruthless and organized poaching networks. With the new and rather unviable schemes of development the fate of our national animal lays in peril.

Poaching is also an ever present danger, we have lost about 40 Tigers to poachers in 2015 itself. The Wildlife Protection society in September 2014 released a study that outlined 73 districts in Central and Southern India that have become the “poaching hotspots.” To add to all of this there is the usual hot debate about Tiger tourism and its benefits vs effects on the wildlife and its habitat.

While we are unable to deal with problems at our home turf the ever present demand for the Tiger skins, bones, meat, literally everything in a Tigers body, continues to be prevalent from our neighbors in the North-East, particularly China. Moreover there are other threats like: legal and illegal mining… construction…logging … the list goes on. My point here is the Tiger has to face such immeasurable odds to survive, since the very second it places its paws on this godforsaken humanized yet inhumane planet….let alone get a chance to grow up, learn how to hunt, disperse off, mate and enrich the constricted gene pool. It breaks my heart to see that the future of every single Tiger in India, our national animal is balanced on such a thin and unstable line.

We need to give the Tiger a chance. The government does not care about them…. why would they? After all the Tigers are not their vote banks are they? So why should one (government) make fake promises to save them if they don’t fetch a vote.

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But why save the Tiger?
Well its not just about saving a beautiful animal. We can lose a lot more than we can imagine. There are four big reasons for saving the Tiger.
Firstly top predators like the Tiger hold the ecosystem together. They are at the top of the food chain. For instance they prevent over-grazing by limiting herbivore numbers and maintain ecological integrity.

Secondly most forests in India are protected because they have Tigers in them, the big cats present the government with a “reason” for conservation. The governments interest may partly be to actually protect these species for natural historic importance but is majorly powered by economic forces such as tourism and employment. The government of this era goes where the money does. The National Parks of India, through tourism bring in a lot of wealth for the state governments and the much needed foreign exchange for the central government. The government also gets a lot of remittances from the Travel companies, lodges, hotels etc that operate tourism in these areas. Once the National Parks becomes a tourist hub, a rise in general employment of the area follows which is beneficial for the local communities. So there are a lot of “economic reasons” why the government would want to protect these species. However once they disappear from these forests, so will the economic reasons and impetus for protecting them. Even though some other animal population would initially survive, it will not attract the same amount of tourists as a Tiger usually does. It is a disturbing but an honest truth. Economically paving it with roads, industrial complexes, malls and residential apartments then, would be an impetus and alternative for the government.
Thirdly over 300 major rivers of India originate from the Tiger Reserves. In wake of India’s growing shortage of water, it is imperative that these sources be kept inviolate. Replacing the lands around the water sources with development as has been done in many areas, would only cause a bigger disaster. The failure of maintaining the mighty Ganga and Yamuna are examples in itself.

Lastly, the Tiger being at the top of the food chain acts as an umbrella specie, by conserving the Tiger you are conserving a host of flora and fauna beneath it; from herbivores to snakes to insects to plants. Let me give you an interesting example, with the loss of the Tiger and inevitably its habitat India could not only face its biggest water shortage but also food shortage. Consider this, bees are responsible for pollinating about one-sixth of the flowering plant species worldwide and approximately 400 different agricultural types of plant. The invaluable pollinating services they provide us with helps in producing billions of agricultural crops. Most National Parks host large number of Honeybee colonies and other pollinators which serve as hubs through which colonies branch out to make their homes near farmlands. On the other hand most colonies outside of the forested areas ruthlessly smoked out by humans as they pose “danger.” or for honey collection. Thus a viable Tiger population indirectly affects the food thats on our plate.

An old and bold Tigress from Bandhavgarh, India

An old and bold Tigress from Bandhavgarh, India

So suppose the great predators such as the Tiger were to be extinct in the wild, it will have a huge impact on the whole ecological web, affecting each and every single part of it and the negative effects of which will be irreversible.

The Tigers walk on the richest lands of India and the richest want to take away these lands. All of us want to reap the fruits of economic growth but why must the Tiger suffer? See the Tiger has remained trapped within a vocal minority of saviors and between people who could never connect with the reality of its last stronghold. The activists and scientists have been doing their bit for generation with little or no help and support. Its the common people that have to initiate the move now. The common people need to rise up as the true torchbearers and the voices of the soul thats called Tiger. There is a huge silent majority, of people who love the Tiger who care about it but will not speak up. Thats the constituency that needs to come out. One has to realize that our politicians are bloody scared about us, because we the common people are their so called vote banks? Then why not rise the up? Tigers don’t have a vote we do, so lets give them a voice, a chance to survive.

These are big carnivores, to maintain a critical breeding population and gene structure India needs corridors and the incompatible human areas to be kept out. Moreover India needs a modified conservation rather than a protection strategy; one that is scientifically and socially optimal and viable. There is little disagreement about the need for all this. The real problem is HOW. It is not feasible much less practical for all of us to leave what we are doing and dedicate the life to the Tiger… join the forest department or volunteer in the field. So what can you do? As a common man/woman?

FIRSTLY, stay informed. The more aware you are of the status and plight of India’s wildlife and wild places, the more effective you will be in helping to conserve it. You can stay informed of the current conservation efforts being undertaken across the country through the social media, current publications on magazines and newspapers and the internet. You can also get in touch with local wildlife organizations including the media in this specific field for an up-to-date information.

The Intrepid athena. Bandhavgarh National Park

The Intrepid athena.
Bandhavgarh National Park

Being informed will help you create awareness. Once you are armed with knowledge, spread it. Pass it on to your friends, family and community leaders. There are many innovative ways to create awareness, you could, organize an event such as a walk or an exhibition, that educates the public about wildlife or even host a fundraiser. Or something as simple as posting about it on social media or starting a blog to keep your friends, families and co-workers informed.
When you visit national parks or sanctuaries, take some time to interact with the local village communities and even the forest department workers, thank them for the work and motivate them, trust me it goes a long way. Writers and photographers, use your skill as a vehicle for societal change. The word will travel around one way or the other.

If time permits volunteer with an environmental/wildlife NGO. Support an NGO by offering them your time or skills. Before you take this step, research the field and organization that you wish to assist. Once you have short-listed an organization, be sure that their basic philosophy is similar to what you believe in. Get in touch and offer your services.

SECONDLY, pressurize the authorities. Write letters or petitions to your community leaders and to national and international leaders. Use the power of the RTI, to ask the government authorities questions like, how much money is allocated for Tiger protection? How many forest guards are employed in a particular area? What are their wages? How are relocations undertaken? and are the families getting their due compensation? Use the power of your inquisitive mind, don’t hesitate. Bring the ambiguities out in the open if need be.

THIRDLY, do not be a consumer. Avoid using/consuming products made from wild animals. Check for the ingredient of the products you are using. Conserve paper and water, its the small things that will count, because if each one of us saves a bucket or a sheet, indeed we can make a big difference.

LASTLY, donate if you can to the organizations working for Tiger conservation, be sure to donate to the right organization. It need not be in big amounts, even 50 rupees can help the organizations, in funding a meal for the forest staff for instance.

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Man and animal conflict will rise with the increase in development and the increase in number of Tigers, as the shortage of space would force some to move out of the protected areas and inevitably come in conflict with humans. We have to ensure however that we don’t make the Tigers and people enemies of each other. The boundaries of national parks and sanctuaries would need expansion, inviolate spaces would need to be administered, corridors would need to be improved, conservation rather than a protection strategy would have to be implemented because God forbid each of these individuals are to experience the same fate as dear Ustaad or many other Tigers locked up in cages or put down as they became “maneaters or mankillers”. In the case of Ustad don’t say it was the fault of the guard or that of the Tiger, but my point is that man and animal don’t do well together as both crossed each others path and suffered equally. Man animal conflict will have to be included in the conservation agenda.

Don’t let a handful of people (politicains) seal the fate of Tiger. Make the authorities answerable and the states accountable. Ask questions! For instance why does the Tiger Conservation Authority does not have a single Tiger ecologist? Are you (government) waiting for a few more Sariskas and Pannas to happen? Or do you need us to give you a few bundles of notes under the table to save the TIGER….

The Tiger is a great historic symbol which requires exceptional conservation. It is in grave danger and so are we. Hence we, the common people ought make an effort to conserve them. If Tigers indeed go extinct, a great misery among the human specie would also be inevitable. Moreover what are we going to say to the future generations? We could have saved the Tigers…..conserved them and could have even helped them flourish………. but we let them go…..? The future of this troubled species partly rests in your shoulder, the citizens of India. So as Valmik Thapar says lets ensure that “we don’t drive the last nail into the Tigers coffin”.

High res file with article :
#GlobalTigerDay #SaveTheTiger #Tiger #PantheraTigris #Bandhavgarh #Kanha #Pench #SuyashKeshariPhotography #SaveTheWild #SaveIndia #IncredibleIndia #India

The words and photographs are copyrights of the author and photographer Suyash Keshari and any reproduction of any part or whole without prior permission will be subject to copyright laws and subject to Delhi Jurisdiction.

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