In the field of wildlife conservation working closely with the government and providing suitable policy inputs can result in important on-ground changes. Several of our projects are wonderful examples of successful partnerships between governmental and non-governmental agencies.
Connecting the sources
In a densely populated country such as India, the 5% of land set aside as areas protected for wildlife, is often the last refuge for some wildlife species such as the tiger one-horned rhinoceros and others. Conservation efforts need to be supplemented with the availability of larger tracts of forests to support ecologically viable wildlife populations and also to ensure that the protected areas are connected. By working closely with the government, we have been able to secure the addition of ~2,700 km2 of biodiversity rich forests into the protected area network in Karnataka as well as mitigate some of the threats to these islands of biodiversity.
Our team worked closely with the government to augment the protected area network in the state. Through GIS tools, field understanding of ecologically important sites we identified parcels of forested land that would provide a contiguous protected area network for wildlife. In addition, we attempted to address this using a conservation planning technique that considers ecological, social and political factors. Our efforts also bore fruit with the declaration of a new protected area, Sri Malai Mahadeshwara (MM Hills) Wildlife Sanctuary (906 km2). We continue to provide scientific inputs on this aspect to ensure that network is further enhanced to ensure that wide-ranging species have a secured land-tenure.
Ensuring wildlife compatible land uses
Implementing wildlife compatible projects in the immediate vicinity of protected areas is a much-needed necessity to ensure that land-use in these areas are in tune with wildlife conservation. Eco-sensitive zones could minimize the detrimental impacts of certain activities on these ecologically fragile areas while incentivizing local people living there. We have provided critical scientific and GIS inputs to the government to identify and delineate eco-sensitive zones, under the existing Environment Protection Act 1986, around 14 protected areas in the Western Ghats of Karnataka. We also work with local leaders to ensure that these inputs had support from democratically elected people’s representatives. Bandipur Tiger Reserve was the first tiger reserve in the country to notify the eco-sensitive zone where we played a critical role.
We further suggested and convinced the government to provide additional benefits for communities living within the eco-sensitive zones. Based on these suggestions Karnataka government has now approved to provide additional funding for water conservation activities to communities living within the eco-sensitive zones.
Most frontline staff of forest department are local people with a keen understanding of the wildlife in the area, looking to make a livelihood out of protecting their forests. These foot soldiers work in harsh and remote conditions, often far from human habitations or medical help. They are also inadequately equipped to deal with emergency situations.
Through our efforts, a government sponsored personal accident insurance scheme for the frontline staff of all protected areas in Karnataka was initiated in 2013. This scheme is expected to cover the staff against injury or death on duty and has already been implemented in many protected areas in Karnataka. Funds for this insurance scheme is sourced through the revenue generated by tourism in protected areas.
Similarly, we are working on other welfare initiatives that could help the frontline staff. We believe that government sponsored programs are more sustainable in the longer-term on staff welfare aspects, and civil societies can act as pivotal agencies to initiate and facilitate the welfare programs.
Defragmenting wildlife habitats
Mushrooming of certain developmental activities causes untold damage to wildlife habitats in terms of loss and fragmentation leading to several direct and indirect impacts to wildlife. We have supported and worked with the government and other civil societies to reduce impacts of fragmentation in some of the protected areas and ecologically rich multiple use forests. However we have also ensured that alternative suggestions are provided and implemented so that the solutions are pragmatic and scalable. Closure of highways to vehicular traffic at night within Bandipur and Nagarahole Tiger Reserves and development of alternative roads outside these reserves are some of the examples of such initiatives. Through such efforts, we have been successful in combining biology with action to result in tangible gains for wildlife. These initiatives have now been replicated by other state governments.