The case for a Wildlife Coalition
There are a number of organizations and parks doing excellent work in wildlife. This article advocates the establishment of a Wildlife Coalition to improve the impact of individual efforts by providing a platform for all stakeholders to come together to share, learn, collaborate and partner. This platform could also provide an opportunity for experts and researchers to meet and share their learnings. Such a coalition could become a meeting point, both virtual and physical, for all players in the field as indeed we have seen at the India Sanitation Coalition.
A number of organizations are spending reasonable amounts on different wildlife-related activities, including helping forest guards. The coalition could help prioritize the requirements of the different parks, and guide the disbursement of available funds. Raising funds from different sources, including corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds, would be another function of the coalition.
A coalition of stakeholders—including government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), individual experts, businesses that service the industry, media, corporate entities and donors—will add greatly to the overall wildlife effort. They could facilitate forest departments, NGOs, resort owners, naturalists, guides, drivers, community and farmer representatives, sarpanchs (village heads) and DMs (district magistrates) working together at the local level.
In such a coalition, a steering committee would guide the work through task forces, which would be established to address the different requirements of wildlife e.g. habitat, relocation, poaching, park administration and forest guards. The first hurdle would be to raise funds for a secretariat that would support the coalition. Most coalition members would have regular jobs, and would not be able to devote a large part of their time to the coalition, so the secretariat would play a crucial role in ensuring continuity of the various activities.
The coalition can sensitize media to the realities of wildlife and its protection and can attempt to involve them in advocacy for conservation. The coalition could encourage experts among its members to write columns in different publications and join panel discussions on television to disseminate knowledge on wildlife.
Helping local communities understand the advantages of tourism is key to ensuring that a park does well, making them party to the conservation effort, thus helping attract more tourists. More job opportunities would arise for guides and drivers; there would be a need for vehicles and their maintenance, besides increasing employment in lodges and for local farmers providing food and vegetables. Villagers can also benefit from tourism as in Brazil and Africa, with exposure to their villages, homes, culture and sale of their arts and crafts.
Forest-related work would also provide jobs to local communities through creating fire lines and water holes, nurseries, check dams and maintenance of roads etc. Tourism can also support the forest department’s effort in park management through better policing by providing many more eyes and ears and feedback. The coalition can look at ways as to how tourism can be enhanced with minimal negative impact on the environment.
It is surprising that often communities around the parks have not been into the park. Park visits and education on conservation for community groups including children would help their appreciation of the natural heritage. The coalition could help develop curriculum through experts to educate children in interactive and fun ways.
Wildlife enthusiasts communicate through informal channels and sharing of pictures. It may be worth encouraging the process and have tourists and guides post their pictures on the coalition’s website with dates. Each animal can then be separated and its behaviour pattern mapped, helping the forest department. The coalition’s website can also disseminate best practices, encourage conversations around conservation, skilling and administration for others to emulate. Pictures would also be an advertisement for wildlife and the parks.
The coalition could arrange stakeholder workshops for capacity building, and help to identify and address issues in different parks. Information sharing and learnings from others’ experiences could cover wide-ranging subjects including poaching, habitat, park administration, buffer zones and night drives, compensation and medical facilities.
The workshops would also enable the experience and knowledge of forest guards/range officers who work on the ground to be captured, shared and documented.
Currently there are a number of awards that recognize different aspects of conservation of the environment and wildlife. Perhaps the coalition should attempt to recognize the winners and support and showcase their efforts in an ongoing manner.
The coalition could also suggest to the different organizations to include awards in areas which may not have been covered or institute such awards.
The coalition can identify appropriate technologies for implementation, e.g. camera traps with flash are still being used—these scare animals, forcing them to change routes skirting the traps. Best practices in such situations can be agreed on and implemented.
Project Tiger fortunately helped to protect our pristine forests and other animals, birds and reptiles benefited in the process. Gibbons, pangolins and other endangered species also need to be protected. The coalition can also help drive this effort.
Collaboration and partnerships are the need of the hour and a coalition could greatly enhance the overall impact of individual efforts.
Naina Lal Kidwai is chair, FICCI Sustainability, Energy and Water Council and Rashid K Kidwai is coordinator, India Sanitation Coalition.
This is the last of three articles to mark the World Nature Conservation Day on 28 July.
Part 2: Guardians of our forests