The Root of the problem
In India the Tigers are fighting a battle for survival. Poaching happens-and fingers are pointed at the forest patrols and gaurds with insinuations of corruption and bribery, and at the local tribals and villagers for selling out the wildlife. But lets face it- it's probably a fairly scary situation to put yourself in- to make a living by capturing and killing a dangerous wild animals. So WHY do it???? Over the last 2 years that we have lived in Panna and Bandhavgarh, Shail and I have spoken to gaurds and the local villagers many times about this-
From the gaurds point of view- They are underpaid, they are understaffed, they are inadequetly armed and they do not have the powers of say the police or the army. For example; Take an average forest gaurd- on a monthly wage of approx $1oo-150. On foot, armed with a torch and a stick- comes across a poacher in the act. The poacher probably has a gun or two, more than likely a vehicle- if only a motor cycle for get away, and cash to offer the gaurd to keep quiet. If not- the gun could come in handy.
From the villagers point of view- A fair number see the forest department as the enemy anyway- since they have displaced them out of their ancestral homes in the forest. The average earning for a village household is probably less than $100 per month. There is no state benefit system. Medical facilities are few and expensive (compared to the villagers earning capacity). Most villagers are farmers and a lot of the wildlife is seen as pests- especially the wild boars and the deer. To add to this families are large- so someone is always either falling ill or getting married or dying or being born- all expensive activities. Then comes along a poacher- usually picking the villagers who's luck has just about run out- He may approach the villager posing as a concerned friend- then show him a way to make easy cash- to save the life of a parent, a sibling or a child- the choice is made. The Tiger loses every time.
What I have pointed out above is not revelationary in any sense- its something we all know- but the problem is that no one is addressing this problem.
Why can we not work WITH the villagers and tribals? Why can we not employ the tribals (who know the jungles better than anyone else) as forest patrolmen?
Why can we not have a fair compensation system for the Forest gaurds? The Parks are given money from the government budgets, they also earn money from tourism, and they also get overseas help- Where is all this money going?
Why can't the forest gaurds have the same arms and powers as the police or army? Its a fact that poaching incidents have dropped dramatically in Kaziranga since the introduction of armed patrols?
Why is it not Mandatory for all local hotels/camps etc to employ at least 80% locals?
Why is it not Mandatory for the local businesses to support/sponsor a medical facility and a school for local village & tribal children?
And WHY can the govt. forest conservationists not work together with the tourism sector. After all, each and every guest who enters the Park is an extra set of eyes and ears that can be used to monitor the Park gaurds and others?
To me these seem like simple and obvious solutions to at least begin with- what say you?