Conservator of forests (CF) & field director Dr Jitendra Ramgaokar (40) is an IFS officer of the 2006 batch. A veterinarian by education and training, he heads the over 1,700 sqkm Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR). The park is preparing a ‘Vision-2020-40’ document with the support of all stakeholders to address a host of problems pertaining to the tiger district of Chandrapur. A maiden workshop of stakeholders was held recently at Tadoba to hold preliminary discussions and more such meetings will be organized to finalize the document. In an exclusive interview with TOI, Ramgaokar talks about the pros and cons and the plan in place.
Q. With Tadoba already having an exhaustive tiger conservation plan (TCP), how did the need for ‘Vision 2020-2040’ come about?
A: It’s true that a government-approved comprehensive TCP for 2016-26 is in place, but most of the data is from 2010-14. Over the years things have changed rapidly, especially the population of tigers and leopards and the resultant rise in human-wildlife conflict. Important activities such as relocation cannot be part of a time-specific plan as it is voluntary. Also, some other aspects such as eco-development and employment generation, the carbon footprint of management activities, tourism infrastructure and diversifying ecotourism activities needed to be dealt with in much more detail with a longer horizon. With the rising aspirations of people in and around forest areas, we need to work towards meeting their aspirations and at the same time not only secure the area but to expand the inviolate areas for wildlife. This is not achievable in a short time and hence, we felt the need for guidance and new ideas from stakeholders — local communities, public representatives, wildlife managers, scientists, NGOs and media persons. We’ve received encouraging responses and we hope that we are able to put together a holistic document. We know that 20 years is a long period and considering the pace of change, it will be an adaptable document with specified areas of work and direction of efforts to be made.
Q. How was this concept visualized?
A. NTCA has started an exercise to evaluate the functioning of tiger conservation foundations across the country and having a long-term vision for the landscape has been considered as a sign of vibrant and purpose-oriented foundation. Taking a cue from this process, we began with the effort to make a vision document for the TATR Conservation Foundation. We are now moving in the direction of preparing a holistic vision document covering all aspects of management that will impact long-term conservation of wildlife in this landscape and people’s participation and support towards coexistence with wildlife.
Q. Is only Tadoba doing it or are there other tiger reserves working on such a vision document?
A. We are not aware of other tiger reserves. We at Tadoba were convinced that a guiding document with inputs from all was required to plan future management strategies.
Q. Is this vision confined to Tadoba or its larger landscape?
A. Tadoba today cannot be seen in isolation but as a part of a larger landscape, including territorial forests of Chandrapur, Bramhapuri, central Chanda, FDCM and Kanhargaon, Ghodazari, and Chaprala wildlife sanctuaries. At the same time, we need to focus on TATR as it is important for long-term conservation objectives of the area.
Q. TATR is known for providing livelihood through tourism. After 20 years what will be the scenario?
A. It’s difficult to say what will be the scenario in 2040, but our efforts shall be directed towards increasing non-forest dependent livelihoods, skill development, moving to low volume premium experience-based ecotourism activities. We would like to visualize the TATR of 2040 to be far more resourceful in terms of high-earning sustainable livelihood options.
Q. But the Supreme Court in 2012 has already ruled that tourism has to be phased out from the core.
A. Wildlife tourism today sustains a large number of families. Unless an alternative source is developed for all dependent communities it would be detrimental for conservation to stop tourism. We have enough understanding today about the criticality of the goodwill of people for the success of conservation. This goodwill is our biggest resource. A large part of it is due to the livelihood that wild areas offer. At the same time, we are making efforts to develop tourism in buffer and even territorial forest areas. One can imagine the pressure that would have been created on the core area had the buffer tourism not been there. Once it develops to a reasonable level and is able to benefit all dependent communities, we can move away from core areas in a phased manner.
Q. Is addressing flared-up human-animal conflict part of the vision?
A. Coexistence is going to be a major theme for this vision document. We are consulting all stakeholders and experts to suggest the best strategies to manage conflict situations and to reduce the direct interface between people and wildlife.
Q. How will you address this issue?
A: We do have some strategies that have worked for reducing conflict. We have seen that with practices that reduced dependence on forests for non-timber forest produce (NTFP), fuelwood, protection of crops without harming wildlife and promotion of non-extractive uses of forest-like ecotourism and eco-development activities, we can achieve some degree of reduction in conflict. We need to build on this experience by expanding our efforts by using modern technology to track and identify potential conflict animals, make our land-use practices less intensive, and bringing about behavioural change in people who live close to forests.
Q. Is translocation and sterilization of tigers the solution to tackle conflict?
A. Some ways to manage or manipulate the population will have to be tried with proper studies and experiments. For translocation to work, we need to prepare recipient areas with a good prey base and less human disturbance. At the same time, the population in the source areas, especially areas considered as unnatural habitats for tigers such as industrial areas and the vicinity of major towns, need to be controlled by adopting various modern scientific tools and techniques. We are still receiving inputs on the issue and will include appropriate suggestions in the document.
Q. There are so many tigers in Tadoba and even in CSTPS, but there is no conflict?
A. Tadoba is largely inviolate with low human disturbance as compared to areas like CSTPS. Naturally, there is less conflict in TATR. The CSTPS habitat is unnatural with intensive human activities. There have been incidences of conflict in such areas and it can occur in CSTPS also.
Q. Can community nature conservancy (CNC) be a solution to the problems?
A. There is no one thing that can be called a solution to a situation that is as complex as we see in the TATR landscape where big carnivores and people are trying to co-exist. We need to look at all possible measures that can be taken especially those which can economically benefit small and marginal farmers who depend on agricultural activities without any improvement in productivity or change in the cropping pattern. It is here that the concept of CNC comes into the picture. It has the potential to transform how people look at an agricultural land in terms of its use. With assured income from sources like ecotourism, farmers are expected to change their attitude towards wildlife in such a way that they might stop considering them as pests but as a resource. Even with CNC, we may not achieve a complete change in land use from agriculture to the forest, neither is it intended. With CNCs, we might restore those low productivity practices with a supplementary source of income in the form of tourism or in the form of payment for ecosystem services.
Q. Is CNC more about benefiting private parties than communities?
A. It’s a new concept and will take time for people to realize. They need to see the working models and how they can benefit. All safety measures against loss of ownership and income is in place in the policy document of the government and it should be implemented in letter and spirit by following all the due process laid out in law. Unless it is beneficial to both, farmers and private parties, the CNC concept cannot be successful. The key to success lies in identifying important areas from a conservation point of view and organizing farmers in a strong cooperative that can negotiate with private entities on mutually-beneficial agreements.
Q. With land being diverted for FRA, linear and non-linear projects will there be forests to implement Vision 2040?
A. The delicate balance between the demands of development and conservation interests will continue to be there. But with the new understanding of mitigation measures and strong support for its implementation before any major infrastructure project is undertaken augurs well for wildlife. I believe that in spite of enormous pressures on forest and wildlife habitats, we have been able to increase our wildlife population in the last decade which is a testimony to the better future that awaits us. The path towards that is not going to be easy and we will be required to work more to expand the strategies that have worked for conservation. There are no new encroachments that are taking place under FRA in TATR and pending claims are being expeditiously decided upon by the authorities.
Q. Should the district administration and other agencies be part of implementing Vision 2040?
A. Definitely. Tadoba is the pride of the district and the way TATR has come up over the years is only because of the concerted efforts of the district administration and other agencies. One of the most important aspects of our vision is going to be the creation of more inviolate space for wildlife and safe passage for wildlife wherever they need to instinctively disperse. We are aware of the role being played by all the agencies of the district when it comes to voluntarily relocating villages from the core areas of the tiger reserves. Since the vision document will be holistic involving all, it is not possible for the forest department alone to implement all aspects without support from the administration.