It is an unexceptionable argument that money is sine qua non for conservation. But this is only one side of the coin. Flip side is spending the money injudiciously. Injudicious spending of money is playing havoc in many of our wildlife reserves. Harebrained schemes that were drawn up just because money was allotted has caused depredation in many areas and have assumed quixotic proportion in some places.
Here is an incident from Parambikulam wildlife sanctuary worth a mention here. A few years back the authorities decided that some of the small wetlands that dotted the landscape of Parambikulam needed improvements. The raison d’être for the proposal was money allotted for habitat improvements. The intention was laudable but the results of the improvement works proved catastrophic. The improvement works drained the wetlands and made them totally unproductive. The shocking state of the wetlands (Vayals) now should be an eye opener for the wildlifers.
The deleterious results of pumping in money indiscriminately have been graphically described by scientists like George Wittemyer who have put under scanner wildlife reserves in Africa and Latin American countries. All wildlife Mangers should go through the research paper by George Wittemyer( Published in Science Magazine, Volume 321,4th July 2008).The analysis showed that what was intended did not materialize and remained a mirage. Several external quagmires were not foreseen.
We need an environmental impact analysis of each and every scheme for wildlife reserves before they are taken up. This assessment has to be made by a team of scientists and forest officers well versed in the ecology of the place. There is no use crying over the spilt milk. Scientists are equally responsible for the sorry state of affairs. Scientists should be courageous enough to stand up and point out bloomers instead of carping towards the end. They should rise above the trend of currying favors with the authorities for short-term gains.
The crying need of the hour is protection pegged at the highest level. Human resources management of wildlife reserves needs to be perked up to bring in men of high calibre. Wildlife reserves needs guy whose actions are prompted by the love for wildlife. Any Tom Dick and Harry cannot deliver the goods. Gone are the days when we could have got highly educated guys as forest guards for the asking. In areas like Periyar newly recruited guys are leaving for greener pastures the minute they get an opportunity. It is high time we made an analysis of this malaise and come up with schemes to make the job of frontline staff more attractive.
Landscape connectivity needs to be given priority of the highest order and has to be at the forefront of discussions while formulating plans for new sanctuaries. Money spent for ensuring landscape connectivity will be an insurance against future depredations. A striking reversal of this axiom can be seen in Eravikualm National Park. The boundaries of the Park were drawn up without taking in to consideration the ecological needs of Nilgiri Tahr. What should have been an ecological boundary was pointed out by knowledgeable people at the time of the formation of the park itself. But lackadaisical ways of the department and the political leadership squandered away the opportunity. Their main concern was production forestry in the neighboring Munnar Forest Division and they had apprehensions that Munnar Division would suffer in terms of revenue if the proposal is implemented. The human habitation in the areas proposed for addition to the park was negligible at that time and moving the inhabitants’ out would have been a very easy affair. But here also short sighted policies prevailed. Over the years the population has grown considerably and now moving them out is next to impossible. A golden opportunity was frittered away due to the blinkered views of a few officers who remained votaries of production forestry.
Scientists and forest officers have to work in tandem to evaluate the strategies for wilderness management and ensure that money spent is well spent. The mistakes of the past could very well become the springboards for carefully formulated policies for future. Political leadership has to chip in with a policy of non interference in the day to day affairs and the routine transfer and posting of officers in wildlife reserves. It should be left to the sagacious decision of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests . We need a stable administration manned by men with proven mettle if the denizens of the wild are to survive. There are no short cuts here.