The Wild Walk believes that Raj Krishnani, Founder of the initiative 'Save the Tiger' is one of the very few Conservation Warriors in our Country. We bring to our readers, what inspired him to be who he is today – an extraordinary person with the mission to save Tigers.
- Shrilekha Venkateswar | The Wild Walk
How did the
initiative 'Save The
Tiger' blossom? What
does the initiative
Around the Year 2000, there was this gain in media coverage about Tiger deaths in the Country and once in a way there were a few articles covering about tiger conservation in the newspapers but again there was no idea about what is going on in each reserve, like for example how many tigers are even there etc. I was extremely inquisitive and wanted to know more till until one day, in the Year 2008, I learnt about Facebook. I was told that there were immense number of pages on Tigers and Tiger conservation. Excited but to be soon disappointed to find that there were at least 25 to 30 pages on Facebook called ‘save the tiger’ etc but were completely useless, some did not have anything, some had just advertisements and some were just posting once in a way without good information. That is when I decided to take on the job of creating awareness for Tigers and on 17th July 2008 formed my page “Save the Tiger’.
Even today there is no better medium than social media to reach the common people and Facebook allows us to reach so many people around the world. Initially it was a tough job creating awareness but today with almost 3.4 million people on my page, it makes a good impact to highlight issues and get connected to various parts on the world and especially India, where Tiger conservation is the need of the hour.
One such programme which we conducted was the “Leave Me Alone’ campaign along with Bittu Sahgal – Editor, Sanctuary Asia Magazine. The campaign consisted of ongoing activities and events designed to aid India’s people in echoing the tiger’s plea to “leave me alone.” Some of the key objectives of this campaign included six serious steps to save the tigers namely - to get serious about poaching, making protected areas inviolable, to address habitat degradation and fragmentation, Incentivise and assist communities to benefit from livelihood options through Community Nature Conservancies (CNCs), address climate change, to use science as a management tool.
I also regularly connect with NGO’s, Government Organizations and conservationists to help people who are working ‘mud on boots’ in our Tiger reserves by providing them funds , materials etc through direct sponsorship. We have a Tiger defender team, who anyone can directly support and contact them for various needs through.
Where do you think we stand in terms of tiger conservation?
Well, it is a very important question and a very tricky question to answer. Fortunately there is a good momentum from the Government to realise about Tiger conservation and there are also efforts being put through the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA); but we are a very long long way yet.
The two most important things which are our key to good conservation efforts are our forest guards and awareness to villages surrounding the reserves because if these two are strengthened there will be tremendous decline in encroachment, poaching, man – animal conflicts and deforestation. How? If the villagers are taught about why the Tigers are important for our forests and our survival, they will understand why they should not harm them in anyway. If there is no chance of relocation of the village proper education and awareness about their surroundings should be given to them.
A) Encroachment / Deforestation: Most of the villages inside the tiger reserves expand every year due to some population explosion or have people move in from other villages to work in towns and cities nearby. That is when space becomes necessary for these people and unfortunately the forest cover is compensated for such issues. New houses start coming up to meet the population demand and this slowly starts shrinking the boundary of the Tiger Reserves. If a village agrees to the compensation and relocation from the Government, it will be beneficial for both Tigers and themselves. Today it is the coal mines which are the ultimate threat to Tiger conservation. Mining around Tiger Reserves is disastrous as it destroys the earth completely and it takes years for any forest to revive, as the soil in these areas are completely impure for vegetation to grow back again quickly.
B) Poaching: Most of the general poaching of deer and wild boar is done by the people living in and around tiger reserves. They do it for their need of food and sometimes to kill stray animals that enter their fields to graze. Tiger poaching is also done in many cases through the help of a local villager or informer who helps these poachers to locate tigers in the forests as they are very informative on the whereabouts of Tigers.
C) Man - Animal conflict : A very important issue because if these villages are not relocated there is bound to be a conflict and unfortunately its always the Tiger who is suffering because there is a huge outcry to kill the Tiger once it harms or kills someone though it may not be a man-eater. The Government though is currently compensating for losses of human life and cattle but unfortunately even after the compensation villagers poison Tiger kills which leads to a number of deaths each year.
D) Forest Guards: The most important weapon for Tiger conservation. Though the Government has released funds for conservation, these guards still do not have the proper equipment / materials to tackle poachers who in turn have more advanced weapons than these guards. Proper allocation of gear is required to tackle this issue upfront. We have a very dedicated guard force in our forests who are working hard day and night and are nothing less valuable than our Army and Navy who are protecting our National Animal. They are motivated and true warriors they need to be honored for the courageous work they all do.
What are the
changes you see in
people's mind after
Save The Tiger
Even before I started this page, I used to ask people what do they know about Tigers. Some said beautiful, some said ferocious, others found it to be a predator etc. But hardly people said that it was an endangered species or a species which needed to be protected. They did not even know that it is almost at the brink of extinction. All they knew was there are so many Tigers in the zoo worldwide so why are we worried about Tigers in the wild. This was the issue where the page helped me in changing their mind set and I was able to make them understand why the Tiger in the wild is more important than the one in the zoo. Today I am happy that this awareness has gone deep and people are realizing the connection between Tigers and our existence and I hope I can take this awareness to a huge level and educate each and every citizen of this country and make them realise the importance of this cause.
What are your biggest concerns for future? Where do you think we are heading towards?
Air and Water. They key to all life. We are abusing our environment and reaching the point of no return very soon. We have contaminated our rivers, our climate is changing every year, and we have strange weather patterns already. Our green cover is being lost @ 20% each year and all this will finally affect the two crucial elements in our life. If we do not realise the importance of our eco wealth, the dipping stock index of our woods, the raging hints from Mother Nature soon will definitely seal our fate. People like you and me may have been long gone but we are leaving a big burden on the shoulders on the generations to come. They will suffer ultimately as we will be leaving them with only a materialistic world. And as the Native American saying goes, 'When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, you will realise that you cannot eat money'.
Do you think a lot of focus is given to tigers and the other species are slightly neglected?
I do not completely agree to this statement because Tigers are an umbrella species, they are on top of the food chain and being the National animal and its reputation, it does demand that attention. Species living in Tiger reserves are thriving under it. If you have studied the rest of the species which are under threat are usually beyond tiger reserves, mainly that is because of poaching and hunting. For example the Great Indian Bustard. If this species would be found in Tiger reserves it would have been difficult to poach them because of the scare of Tigers. It would be indirectly protected.
Today there are a lot of NGO’s, conservationists, and researchers also working and educating us on various other species. Besides, slowly we are realising the importance of bees for example which are wiped out from cities because of our cell phone towers. Definitely each and every species is important to the web of life and should be given equal importance.
What is your opinion on wildlife tourism in India? It is true that a lot of restrictions have been imposed in terms of restriction in number of vehicles allowed inside park, reducing the tourist routes etc., but do you think that is enough? What other aspects should the government implement for responsible tourism?
Wildlife Tourism is very important for our country. Economies of some countries in Africa thrive on wildlife tourism. We need to learn from them how they have turned them into goldmines and at the same time respecting the laws of nature as it is the only income they have. Similarly in India some Reserves and Sanctuaries play an important role in the economy as well as conservation. Rules and guidelines are very important for us and without rules, these places will soon turn into fish markets and there would be chaos inside the parks. It is necessary to control the vehicles inside the park as sometimes after a Tiger or Leopard is spotted they all cramp up on the jungle paths making animals change their course and sometimes completely hesitating to cross over. Nature should not be obstructed. In regards to tourist routes, yes definitely some routes need to be closed time to time because there might be for example a tigress that might have just given birth and would need privacy because the cubs will get affected by the noise of the vehicles and tourists. Also some routes are banned to keep poaching under control and for safety measures.
The Government has to ensure that the guides and the forest guards are strict with the tourists who create havoc while spotting animals. Some tourists will scream, shout and even have known to throw things at animals. In these situations strict action should be taken towards such tourists. It has also come to notice that a lot of tour operators are also breaking the law and entering restricted areas of the park to gain popularity by getting their clients exclusive footage. The other big problem is the sudden entry of Ministry / Government vehicles that arrive at the parks and other general tourists have to suffer their entry because the quota is over. These so called VIP menace is creating a lot of problems for tourists who want to visit the Parks and Sanctuaries only to know that there is a blocked quota for the VIP’s at the very last moment. Not only are these quotas blocked, rules and regulations are also sometimes amended for them to make sure these so called VIPs get proper sighting of Tigers in fear of losing their jobs or losing their high posts.
There is a uncontrolled flow of VIP tourism in every reserve which needs to be checked and there is also a big loss of revenue as they visit these parks frequently in good numbers. Some parks have zones and fixed routes where you get entry but for them the rules are different because they prefer to go on the routes where the sightings are better or known to be better at the given time.
There is a huge list of complaints from tourists who have been there at the time these VIPs invade the parks at any given time. Hope there is a strict law in place soon to curb this menace. If we need to make these parks completely tourist friendly, then there should not be any disappointments caused to them, as they spend a great deal of money and they should influence others to visit these parks and help grow our revenue.
This is the question we ask people in our profession. As India is heading towards eco tourism, what is your opinion on Eco tourism and how do you think our country will perform? What are the likely problem we might be facing?
Eco tourism is the future. Today we have resorts mushrooming all over the country and specially in virgin tourist spots to create new destinations for tourism. Already where there are resorts there is a huge amount of waste disposal etc taking place. Each and every hotel/resort in this country which are located in eco sensitive areas should be converted into Eco hotels with sustainability. Some important factors to consider are
> Sensitivity towards, and appreciation of, local cultures, biodiversity and nature
> Support for local conservation efforts likes NGO's in their area
> Sustainable benefits to local communities by giving them jobs
> Local participation in decision-making to make sure unity is maintained
> Educational components for both the traveller and local communities.
These key factors will boost eco tourism and help communities benefit and sustain themselves. India is not performing too badly yet but if the Government boosts eco tourism like they have in other countries, things could change a lot. Awareness has created a genre of tourist who like such places and are willing to pay the extra rupee to stay at such places.
The rules and regulations still need to get stronger and whip the offenders who are abusing the ecology at sensitive places. The Government has to implement open policy for such places under strict supervision. Investment is another core issue; the Government has to have relaxed bank loan schemes. Another problem faced is about proper guidance of waste disposable which is still lacking in these places.
How has the journey with Save The Tiger been? Please tell us about some of the best moments you have had.
The journey has been fantastic, happy, sad, surprising. There have been so many mixed emotions involved in this journey. I have been very fortunate to know so much about Tigers and come across wonderful people working in conservation and committed to the cause. When you are working with and for Tigers, it is difficult to choose good moments. The launch of the 'Leave Me Alone campaign' was one great achievement where along with the Government of Maharashtra, instigate the CBI inquiry for poaching cases and fortunately it has proved results. Also the campaign had reached the IIFA awards where a lot of stars gave an awareness message on the same.
We are now planning the second impact for the LMA campaign and this time we are going in a big way to get support for Tigers through various sources and hopefully will launch it by April this year. Since it is in the developing stages I cannot really comment on the event.
I personally have always enjoyed your sense of humor. Most of the post that you share on your 'personal' Facebook is very hilarious and witty.
Thank you. Well, it is not me but my girlfriend (imaginary) who keeps everyone entertained. Basically if you want, you can find something funny in everything. I just take for instance something I am reading, I twist them into jokes and create situations of how my girlfriend would think or say at that moment. These twists create good humor and I am happy everyone enjoys them. This humor thing actually happened because when I do my research, I come across a lot of bad news and unpleasant pictures which make me sad, so to have a change of mood, I add humor to my personal profile and that is the reason my profile is not much about conservation unlike my pages - 'Save the Tiger and Save the Leopard'.
Undoubtedly you're a conservation warrior. How does this feel and how big a responsibility is this?
It is absolutely frightening and scary to have a part of the responsibility. I never thought my page would become the ultimate platform for awareness in this world. It has transformed my life. I am very nervous about the future of tigers but at the same time very hopeful. Today everyone from who’s who in Tiger conservation, photographers, and NGO's are connected with my page and it is very important to connect with them to know about the current situation of Tigers in this country.
Every single word put on the page is important. I have to make sure I give correct information and pass on the right conservation message to the millions out there. It is a very difficult job sometimes answering to so many individual people, their queries, and inquisitiveness and sometimes convert their hate for Tigers into love by explaining them about why we are saving Tigers. So far so good and I hope to do this and want to see our Tigers live forever.
A lot of preference is given to the forests in central or Northern India in terms of tourism or facilities for tourists by government or even a lot is written about them. Very less is spoken about the forests in South India, which has a great wildlife including healthy population of Tigers. Most of the documentary movies are also shot on forests up north. What do you think of this and why is this happening?
When it comes to preference or tourism facilities, the rules are same for every destination. According to me the first impact came from people like the late Fateh Singh Rathore and Billy Arjan Singh who were brilliant in passing on the messages of conservation to everyone. The other reason was Jim Corbett who was very popular since the British rule and his stories about Tigers and description about the landscapes etc created a lot of attraction for tourists alike.
The jungles of South India are in fact beautiful and I have spent more time in the jungles of Bandipur, Mudumalai and Nagarhole than in the north. The Nilgiris have their own beauty and if you see today there is a lot of coverage like photographs, articles and news flowing through South India. Media is a power tool and today I think there is equal importance given to all the jungles of India.
How important it is to involve common people in the act of conservation?
The common people are the backbone of conservation. To deal with an issue it is important to know the cause of its destruction. Only then can we find solutions. When the people of a nation realise the importance of a particular problem, they roar together. That way, we can make sure that we are involving millions of supporters, and bringing pressure from all those millions on the authorities who are actually appointed to protect tigers. The Government will have to wake up and get more serious. The Tiger is our national animal, our pride, and we do not want to lose it to poaching and habitat loss. If God has given us the ability to destroy, he has also given us the power to protect and we must and will protect what we love. Issue like aids and polio are today in control because of awareness and this was only possible because the common man understood the importance of the situation. Similarly it is very important for every citizen of this country to know why we need to Save the Tiger and that will immensely help with all the collective efforts of everyone.
Tiger population as per latest census? The status and future?
We lost 66 Tigers last year and that is a very bad figure with all the conservation efforts being put in. There are still many unprotected areas where poaching is happening that we are unaware of. If the Government declares these sensitive areas where there are tiger population in small pockets, it will be possible to raise these numbers faster every year. Though there is a big cheer to the 30% plus increase in population of Tigers in India, taking the figure close to 2226, I personally feel there should be more Tigers because there are places which are still not announced under Protected Areas (PA), are not counted. If the Government takes quick measures to give them a PA status, soon things can be much brighter than expected. The other issue is declaring green ground for the cats, because cats need space for their territories and the Government has to chalk out new areas, clear corridors which should be a priority issue and see that quick relocation of villages are done. I am completely satisfied by the method used for counting the Big cats and new technology will soon help us coming close to accurate numbers.
Note: The above answers, opinions and suggestions are completely from Mr. Raj Krishnani, Founder of the initiative Save the Tiger