‘India can house 4,000 tigers; currently, we have less than 2,000’

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Q&A Dharmendra Khandal, 38, Conservation Biologist

Khandal has worked for the NGO Tiger Watch since 2003. Besides collaborating with the police and forest officials to bust poaching activities, he has encouraged rehabilitation of the poaching community of Moghiyas. “Tiger monitoring has improved, but intelligence gathering remains poor,” he says of working in the Ranthambore National Park. He tells Janani Ganesan why prior information gathering is as important a tool as patrolling in the conservation of tigers and other wildlife

TEHELKA: Despite being a scientist, why do you feel the need to go after poachers in a cop-and-thief fashion?
DK: I joined Ranthambhore for counting tigers and found the number of tigers to be less than in the records of the forest department. Around the same time the news that there were no tigers left in Sariska came out, we had successfully conducted some anti-poaching raids with the forest department personnel in Ranthambhore. The supporters and experienced people of my group Tiger Watch felt that I could handle such a task. They guided me and with the help of the police and department officials, we were successful in Ranthambhore. Tiger numbers increased from 13 in 2005 to 47 in 2012. It is destiny. I never liked this work but someone needs to do it, so I do it.

What is the current state of tiger poaching in India? Is there a possibility of becoming a poaching-free country? What would that take? 
Tiger monitoring has improved a lot. However, recently there was some bad news from Tadoba. A poaching-free country is not possible but if we can control this and secure our source population we may do well. India can house 4,000 tigers; currently we have less than 2,000.

What is the kind of help you get from the Central and state governments?
Since 2003 I have been working for tigers in Ranthambhore, and many forest managers have come and gone during that time. Some of them are proactive; some are even against me. But police support has been consistent. Once we had even conducted an operation with 150 police personal. Support for success is always forthcoming, but we also need it when we fail. All raids cannot be always successful. Our prime duty is to be active in intelligence gathering, which is the right move to stop poaching operation beforehand.

Is there any government policy that you are hopeful about? What is the State getting right?
The government has improved tiger monitoring a lot but the protection side still needs more attention and action. When the government gets any negative news, only patrolling is enhanced such as increasing the number of guard posts and increasing searches. But they have no idea about intelligence gathering. They do not keep up to date records of poachers/suspicious people. The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) is still in its initial stages and needs to develop as an important tool for the tiger conservation movement.

What role should the local community play to prevent poaching? From your experience of working with the people, how sympathetic are they to the cause?
Being a small NGO we cannot hire many people as informers. But we have still caught 68 poachers from the Ranthambhore area alone. Tiger numbers have also gone up from 18 to 48. We sent a few tigers to Sariska, while some moved from Ranthambhore to adjoining areas. Success lies in the relationship with the community. Most of our information came from within the Mogyas, who are a traditionally poaching community.

Janani Ganesan is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
[email protected]

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