Santhosh. V is on a mission to educate people in Coimbatore about the big cats

A pristine river, greenery, a sweet breeze and the call of the koel… it is unforgettable, says Santhosh.V about his experience at Pench Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra. Santhosh is the young tiger ambassador of Coimbatore, who has just returned after attending a three-day camp at the reserve along with other young tiger ambassadors chosen from Delhi, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Orissa, and the North East. It was Bittu Sahgal, editor of Sanctuary Asia, one of the organisers of the camp, who was a motivating factor for these youngsters. “He wanted us to enjoy and learn about wildlife, conservation and saving tigers. We have just about 1700 tigers left and I want to begin the awareness exercise from my school,” says Santhosh. He is a class XII student at Perks MHSS.

R. Mohammed Saleem of Environment Conservation Group, the city co-ordinator who accompanied Santhosh, says it was a great meeting point for exchange of ideas on conservation. “The objective is to educate youngsters on bio-diversity and motivate them to become conservation leaders. Treks, nature walks and presentations at the camp triggered the interest. It gave us a first-hand understanding of the connection between protecting our forests, wildlife and India’s food and water security. Conversations with the forest guards were an eye-opener.”

Though the reserve, divided between Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, is home to over 20 tigers, the team wasn’t lucky enough to spot the big cat. “Rains meant the water was available in plenty. So, the tigers kept away. But, we were happy to spot pug marks,” says Saleem.

The camp also exposed the students on how the local tribals are roped in for conservation initiatives such as eco-tourism and also to keep a check on poaching. “Empowering locals is the key. Many tribal villages have benefitted from it. We have lots to learn from their systematic wildlife management,” says Saleem. One of the initiatives of setting up water holes at every kilometre prevents the animals from straying. This reduces poaching too. Another initiative was putting up camera traps to monitor wildlife movement.

Santhosh says the bigger goal is to save the existing forest cover for the future. “I want to tie-up with organisations such as Save The Globe to spread awareness. The biggest bane for the dwindling tiger population is the rampant poaching especially in central India and North East India. Poachers kill tigers for a measly sum without realising the value of the largest animal in the cat family.” Santhosh says a healthy tiger population serves as an indicator of a healthy ecosystem. He recalls how a student from Orissa who lives near Simlipal Tiger Reserve narrated stories about large scale tiger poaching there and the lack of awareness. “Immediately, field director Srinivas Reddy of Pench Tiger Reserve extended an invitation to another 25 students from Orissa to attend an awareness camp at Pench.”

Tiger stuff

Santhosh will mobilise an online and manual signature campaign in the city on saving the tigers.

Saleem makes an honourable mention of Jay, a male tiger at Umred- Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary. Considered one of the largest tigers in India in terms of size, he covers about 40 km in a day and maintains a territory of over 350 km at the reserve.

The theory that pug marks are unique of each tiger and can be used to identify individual tigers is outdated. Camera traps and DNA analysis are used to identify the tigers accurately today.

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