Anusha Shankar shares her exhilarating experience of representing India at the Youth Tiger Forum conducted by WWF in Russia.

Large, gentle snowflakes drifted around us, drawing a white curtain down upon our last night in Vladivostok, Russia. The next day, November 25, Devanshu and I bid farewell to the land of the Amur tiger, having spent eight wonderful days in the company of 26 other international representatives.

Tiger ambassadors

We were India's youth tiger ambassadors of Youth Tiger Forum conducted by WWF, and hosted by the Russian Government, WWF-Russia and the UN.

Our objective was to meet and discuss the situation of tigers in different countries, and come up with a Youth Outreach Plan to involve the youth in tiger conservation efforts. At the end of the Summit, five other ambassadors and I were chosen to speak via a video link to Heads of Government and other representatives of the remaining 13 tiger range countries. We urged them to protect the largest surviving Felid and its habitats.

We were selected through a rigorous application process that included a number of essays and a telephonic interview. I was excited to hear I had been selected, though it involved writing all my semester examinations in advance.

During the course of the Forum, we visited the Kedrovaya Pad State Nature Reserve and the Orlinoe Hunting Estate; both part of the Amur tiger's range.

We spoke to the rangers of both areas,and learnt how tigers are protected in this seemingly inhospitable habitat. Along the seafront, each youth delegation placed a stone pug mark bearing their country's name on the pavement, symbolising how tigers connect all the nations.

I thoroughly enjoyed the seamless interactions with other delegates. Despite completely different backgrounds and contrasting lifestyles, there are common joys, emotions and problems that we all face.My roommate Dannee and I, for example, were able to connect and understand each other so well in spite of the fact that she is an English Literature graduate from the UK, and I'm a post-graduate student of Ecology from India. There are so many chances for us to work in harmony across borders and save this world's biodiversity

Our responsibility

Apart from lobbying with policy-makers, each one of us can bring about changes on a small-scale, and make a big difference locally. Though this is spoken about often, more people need to incorporate it in their lives. By turning off the tap, you save a little more of the water that comes from a river in the home range of a Royal Bengal Tiger. By refusing plastic carry-bags at a departmental store, you free your environment from one more source of pollution, carbon-dioxide and cancer-causing toxins. Our lives are an intricate design, inextricably linked with the future of our world. We need to do our individual and collective best to protect our environment from destruction at our own hands. The tiger is a symbol of this environment.We appeal to the youth, be they from tiger range countries or not, to pitch in their skill-set to protecting this iconic, majestic animal It shows that we are aware of our environment and how crucial its well-being is to our planet's (and our) survival. We cannot survive without plants, without air and water. Save the tiger, save our only planet.

Indian scenario

India sustains an astounding population density of 365 human beings per square kilometer. And yet, it supports 1400 of the remaining 3200 wild tigers. There are a number of reasons for this. Our generic cultural and religious links to nature — and to tigers specifically — are very strong, and have prevented indiscriminate killing of tigers and destruction of their habitats. India's policies on wildlife protection are known to be among the best in the world. The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 was a powerful and comprehensive piece of legislation. Though these laws could most certainly be implemented better, the framework to boost protection and improve the conservation network exists. Many other countries do not have such laws at all. This is an essential step if wildlife conservation is to succeed. Instead of putting unbearable pressure on our lands and tearing apart ecologically sensitive habitats with roads and railway lines, we should pressurise our governments to be more environment-friendly. We learnt of the status, numbers, distribution and threats faced by tigers in each tiger range country from other representatives. We debated, and shared ideas on important problems and the next course of action.

************************

What was clearly evident was that the number of tigers is on the decline everywhere. Each of the 3200 remaining tigers faces the threats of poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation, and direct conflict with human beings. The circumstances vary from one region to another, so each youth delegation developed a country-specific plan.

Anusha is a II year M.Sc. student at Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Puducherry.