Decoding the Supreme Court’s order banning tourism activity in core area of tiger reserves shows that the court’s intention was to have zones inviolate from human interference to protect tigers. Read more

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The vigour for wildlife and forests now remains only in schoolbooks and on television channels, sadly. It has totally gone missing from the conscience of an average Indian, who thinks more of today, than tomorrow.

We raise hue and cry, especially in English media, only when a tiger is killed but never speak when hundreds of leopards are poached or elephants died because of human erected electric fence or if any animals are killed.

May be, we feel outraged only for glamour and not for ordinary animals. That is probably because of our Bollywood syndrome. The nation rises in agony when a star gets hospitalized but not for thousands of girls killed in womb, many like Falak who are abandoned and millions hounded or raped.

If India lost 400 leopards in just 13 months, 70% of whom were poached, it is another statistics. For the record, the number of leopards killed in 2011 (358) was the most since 1994, says Wildlife Protection Society of India, the only available data on deaths of big cats in India.

Even the National Tiger Conservation Authority, which got Rs 600 crore for protecting tigers, maintains no such data. Nobody in the government or outside can estimate the number of leopards left.

Those who have lived in hills of Himachal and Uttarakhand, the leopard can easily say their number has gone down drastically. In my native village, 66 km uphill of Shimla, leopard shrieks were common when I was in school in 1980s. It has vanished now. Locals blame replacement of forests by well protected Apple orchards, falling prey population and increasing population of humans as reasons.

But, the latest Forest Survey of India (FSI) report released this week fails to admit the dramatic destruction of forests in hills. In the both the states, there is no change in forest cover.

For years, FSI has maintained that forest cover in these two hills states is stable. Ground proofing will present a different picture. There is huge loss of forests either because of horticulture or developmental activities. Incidentally, the most number of leopard deaths has been reported from Uttarakhand primarily because of destruction of good forests.

It was forests of Kumaon hills in Uttarakhand which inspired India’s first ecologist Jim Corbett to fight for the cause of wildlife. Born in 1875, Corbett first started as a hunter. Between 1907 and 1938, Corbett tracked and shot a documented 19 tigers and 14 leopards — a total of 33 recorded and documented man-eaters.

Then, he became their biggest protector and gave lecturers in schools around the world about the need to protect the wildlife. He also set up All-India Conference for the Preservation of Wild Life, and he established India’s first national park, inaugurated in 1934 in the Kumaon Hills.

Most of Corbett’s work was before Independence and it was Indian Forest Service official Kailash Sankhla, who first objected to hunting in wildlife in 1956. Such genre of wildlife and forest sympathizers is almost missing.

Today, the Indian Forest Service has lost is steam and there are allegations of IFS officers helping private players to uproot the forests and wildlife. These days, very few IFS officers speak about protecting forests at any cause. Their most common refrain is “strike a balance between development and conservation” with none of them having a magic formula for striking the balance.

When IFS officers say so, the political executive takes it as a license to destroy the ecology. A deeper look in the FSI shows it with destruction of forest for development in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa.

That is why, I say, India needs a modern day Jim Corbett, who can take on the government for anti-wildlife policies and educate people about implications of forest destruction for future generations.

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India’s tiger tourism has not benefited the big cat nor the people living in over 600 protected areas in the country. Read more

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