Our conservation work to protect India’s biodiversity and threatened wilderness is not to replace the state forest departments, but to supplement their efforts; and we receive good cooperation from them. Photo: Aditya Singh
Our conservation work to protect India’s biodiversity and threatened wilderness is not to replace the state forest departments, but to supplement their efforts; and we receive good cooperation from them. Photo: Aditya Singh

Vitally important to save our ecosystems

The health-related and education programmes of Wildlife Conservation Trust, which works in 104 national parks in India, involve communities living in and around these forests

I was fortunate to be born in a family which has had a long history of philanthropy, dating back over 100 years. Some of the educational and health-related institutions set up by my family include a hostel for the needy, aspiring students in Dadar; a low-cost recuperation and relaxation sanatorium in Devlali and the DS Kothari Hospital, a multi-speciality charitable hospital. The awareness and influence to give back to society was prevalent from my childhood days.

I was personally very motivated by my father, who was a perennial philanthropist, always involved in charitable work. I founded the Hemendra Kothari Foundation, which is a catalyst in the fields of education, health, livelihoods and heritage, and the Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT) to safeguard India’s biodiversity and threatened wilderness, and to benefit the communities that live in and around these remote, forested areas.

I have always loved and been inspired by nature and the outdoors; during my college days, I would visit forests and also did a mountaineering course in Darjeeling. I realized and learnt how vitally important it was to save our ecosystems and took up conservation work, including protection of the big cats and bird sanctuaries.

My approach to philanthropy is not just financial capital and grant-giving. We have a very strong committed team that works passionately on the ground, at an operational level. The tiger, in a way, symbolizes our objectives—when you save the tiger, you save our planet. Forests are vital carbon sinks and India’s most efficient climate mitigation tools, and 600 of our rivers either originate from or are fed by tiger forests.

WCT works in 104 national parks and sanctuaries across 17 states in India, and our education and health-related programmes hugely involve the communities living in and around these forests. Our conservation work to protect India’s biodiversity and threatened wilderness is not to replace the state forest departments, but to supplement their efforts; and we receive good cooperation from them. Some of our measures in the field include increasing the mobility and efficiency of the frontline forest staff, equipping anti-poaching camps, habitat restoration, wildlife research and monitoring, voluntary resettlement programmes and influencing policy decisions.

We provide a wide range of vehicles, solar integrated systems, water purifiers, first-aid kits, winter and monsoon gear (to name a few), to both help the work of the forest staff and motivate them. Wildlife crime prevention training programmes form an important aspect of our conservation action. We believe that the services of the field staff are the backbone of protection of our natural ecosystems, and it is important to boost their morale and look after their families.

We conduct health camps for villagers and provide financial assistance to the families of ailing and deceased forest staff. Another key area of interest is to recognize the good work of the frontline forest staff by way of citations and financial rewards.

At the heart of our work is the development of communities who live in and around India’s forests. Our objectives are to impart, promote and spread education; provide skill training to the youth and better their livelihood as well as provide health facilities and good sanitation.

Till date, over 59,000 students in 418 villages have benefited from WCT’s school education interventions. We work with a job provider network involving many companies to find employment for out-of-school youth. Over 3,000 young people in 361 remote villages in eight tiger reserves have been positively affected by our livelihoods programmes. Our community programmes are highly sensitive to the need for empowering the girl child and training young women. This is just the beginning and we have plans to expand in a bigger way.

Communities living in and around forests have little or no access to quality healthcare and we seek to address this by organizing health camps in these areas. Till date, our health services have reached 1,627 villages and benefited over 160,000 villagers.

The importance of sanitation and hygiene cannot be emphasized enough and the government’s interest in this area is a welcome move. Not only will the health and general well-being of the people improve, but various historic and cultural sites, some of which may be the best in the world, will come alive and give a big boost to our tourism industry. While India’s old and rich history is well known internationally, tourists have health concerns because of the hygiene and sanitation conditions.

We also sponsor awareness programmes including the Save Our Tigers national level campaign, where we have partnered with NDTV, Aircel and Sanctuary Asia. We work closely with state governments and offer our views and suggestions on critical management issues. Through our network and partnerships, we bring international expertise to improve the training and performance of the forest staff. We also have high regard for individuals and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the field of conservation and strive to both strengthen them and build bridges between them—the forest department and the local communities. We have worked with and supported more than 150 NGOs working in the field of conservation and developmental sectors after assessing their work and conducting a thorough due diligence on them.

I hope our forests and national parks will beckon more philanthropists and wealthy people to enjoy the safaris and nature in all its glory and, in turn, urge them to support and contribute to the protection of wildlife, natural ecosystems and environment, which are the cornerstones of both development and a stable economy.

The recent notification by the government for corporate social responsibility activities under the new companies Act will increase the spending of the private and public sector firms and help expand the good work in neglected areas.

Hemendra Kothari represents the fourth generation of a family of prominent stockbrokers. After serving BSE in the capacity of vice-president for three years, he was elected president in March 1991. He founded DSP Financial Consultants Ltd in 1975, which has evolved into a full-fledged financial services organization with offices in all the major metros. In 1995, DSP entered into a joint venture with Merrill Lynch and the name was changed to DSP Merrill Lynch Ltd. Kothari served as chairman of the company till 31 March 2009.