By Dia Mirza
It’s one thing for us to say we ‘want’ the tiger to be saved and quite another to be part of the solution and actually save our national animal. For that welcome circumstance, we must start by understanding what tigers need to survive, not what we can or want to offer to tigers.
A good way to start might be to listen in to what over one million Kids for Tigers children across the nation know, almost by heart:
“You cannot save the tiger without saving its diverse forests. This ends up saving the entire gamut of biodiversity ranging from termites and turtles, to butterflies and bears. In the process we end up saving the source of pure water supply to over 600 Indian rivers. There is more. Wild ecosystems can only be regenerated and flourish by ‘stealing’ carbon dioxide from the air, which happens to be our best hope to counter the worst impacts of climate change.”
Put another way, saving tigers ends up saving humans… our economy, our way of life, and the security and happiness of our children.
Personally, I make no bones about the fact that I love the tiger. I love all wild creatures with whom we share our planet. But my love for wildlife is not going to do much good if I am unable to convince young persons across India and the globe that the natural world is worth defending.
This is why I am a visceral part of a vibrant movement that goes by the title: “Leave Me Alone.”
That line articulates the essence of what the tiger needs from us to survive… to be left alone. There is a rationale behind this that is founded on the scientific reality that nature is a self-repairing system. When Project Tiger was launched in 1973, its first Director, Kailash Sankhala said: “Do almost nothing in the tiger’s forests and allow next to nothing to be done and the tiger will save itself.”
This is not to say that the tiger needs no forest guards, scientists, writers, photographers or visitors to enter its domain, fall in love and then defend wild nature. These comprise the tiger’s defence team. ‘Leave me Alone’ is the voice of the tiger asking that poachers, miners, dam-builders, agriculturists and sundry developers be kept out of its domain.
That’s it! As my friend and compatriot in our mission to save our wildlife, Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia never tires of saying: “Like a cut or bruise wounds we have inflicted on nature will repair. Automatically. But not if we keep adding wound on wound. Its time we stopped waging war on wild India.”
This self-repairing capability of nature is what encourages both Bittu Sahgal and I to be the inveterate optimists we are. We have seen time and again that nature sends out light even through the darkest tunnels. Such optimism has a well-founded basis. New frog species are being discovered virtually every week by scientists such as Dr. S. D. Biju who heads a conservation initiative called Lost Amphibians of India. Tiger populations too are rising in those forests where tigers have effectively been given those very basic needs: isolation, effective protection and large physical space.
I was in the Pench Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra recently, in the company of some of our country’s brightest young children and their teachers. I saw first-hand how individuals such as Srinivas Reddy (Field Director, Pench Maharashtra) and Alok Kumar (Field Director, Pench Madhya Pradesh) supporting the men and women forest guards of their protection forces, without whom no wildlife can be safeguarded. In Pench, I also saw water sources and natural vegetation springing back to life. Not surprisingly, a new crop of tiger and leopard cubs have emerged, as have the thousands of wild pigs, Chital and Sambar deer without which the carnivores could not possibly survive.
In Pench, I sat quietly and looked out at the massive dam that had been built decades ago. It destroyed huge chunks of tiger forests. But slowly, very slowly, life began to return, to adjust to the massive intrusion. Migratory birds now visit the lake. Crocodiles occupy the waters. Herbivores graze on the nutritious grasses growing around its edges and birds of all descriptions manage to find niches in this amazing forest that stretches across two state borders, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
Of course, there are problems in paradise that we need to guard against. New highways are sought to be constructed at the cost of lakhs of trees. A constant demand from politicians to allow new settlements inside forests. Tourism complexes that threaten to disturb the very peace that tourists are attracted to. Humans have occupied something like 95 per cent of all the land available in India for their own purposes. Can we not find within us the wisdom to allow at least five per cent to be “Left Alone” for wild nature?
Can the popular developmental term ‘inclusive development’ not be taken to mean “including the right of wild species to survive?” I hasten to add that this step would be no favour done to nature. This is in our self-interest because only wild species can effectively maintain the quality of our forests, grasslands, wetlands, lakes, rivers, coasts, all of which are critical to our nation’s water and therefore our economic security.
We are an ingeneous species. We can find ways to live and let live. To allow highways to bypass the most biodiverse and fragile forests. To improve efficiency so more electricity is available from existing power plants and dams. In other words, to allow the permanent infrastructures of survival to thrive and not be brutalised by short-term infrastructures of commerce.
Let me end by returning to the Kids for Tigers children I met at Pench. Their innocence, curiosity and transparent lack of cynicism and drive is going to be our best weapon in our battle to save the tiger and all it represents. Investing in protecting their natural heritage, as represented by the tiger and other wild species of plants and animals, is probably going to be our wisest developmental investment in the foreseeable future.
Our self-interest lies in nurturing nature, not waging war against it.
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