INTERVIEW Environmentalist and wildlife filmmaker Valmik Thapar is worried that if the present climate persists, there would be no hope left for the tiger
V almik Thapar’s angry. At the condition of the tiger in the country. The tiger conservationist lambasts the governing system whose apathy he believes has brought the tiger to the brink. He has been on all government committees that make rules and laws regarding wildlife and nature parks. He has worked inside the system before he quit in sheer frustration.
Valmik has written several books, made films and documentaries on the tiger and espoused the cause for the last four decades. He considers his efforts a failure. Excerpts from an interview with the conservationist.
There is increase in the tiger population in the country. Isn’t that cause for optimism?
Population doesn’t go up by magic; there is a huge problem in the figures. There is no hope of numbers building up in the future. Where the tiger walks is the richest forest area in India. The situation has regressed in the last 20 years and this is because of our politicians and our bureaucrats. It will catch us one day.
Is the situation that dismal?
At this point I see no hope. The tiger is in the gravest danger and that too from the Forest Department. It cannot give any relief to the tiger. The present climate tolerates non-governance, which has led to this crisis. I have worked with many governments, four Prime Ministers and been on all the committees that had anything to do with wildlife. Nothing ever happens. A rejected report is brought on after a gap of a few years. Unscientific policies and poor governance have endangered the tiger the most.
What do you suggest?
The first thing is to go for a complete overhaul of the Forest Department. It is a department set up by the British. The service is archaic. There should be a new rule for recruitment. There should be checks, within the system, on those who exploit timber and those who protect wild life.
Secondly, there are five or six laws that govern this field, including The Forest Act, The Environment Protection Act, Forest Rights Act, and the Indian Forest Acts. All these laws are fighting each other. We need one holistic law that is both prohibitive and enabling.
The third point is to forge genuine partnership between wildlife personnel and people outside the system, the local community. In a landscape such as Periyar, the local naturalists should be involved in decision making.
If you take our 42 tiger reserves, some in complete mess, some better, I would put roughly a 1,000 people in all hierarchies, in all different disciplines that will help in landscape conservation. The best talent in the country are ignored while the wrong people get the job.
What is your view on the ban on tiger tourism?
I am against the ban. Tourism is the only check and balance of what is happening inside a park. I am a great supporter of innovative wildlife tourism. People should be allowed to walk in the park, camp, and have the freedom to understand the language of the forest.
How should it be done?
There should be site-specific tourism. Good tourism can make a difference. The Forest Department should engage the Tourism Department and give the people a fantastic experience. Parks do better or worse depending on the individual in charge. The best thing one can do for conservation is to get the right person for the job.
What are you currently working on?
I have just completed my book on lions and cheetahs — Exotic Aliens , published by Aleph and to be released in February. My aunt, historian Romila Thapar, is writing the foreword. I am excited about the book. After three years of research, I reached the conclusion that lions and cheetahs are not indigenous species… that the lion was imported from Mozambique and the cheetah is a royal pet. It changes the natural history of the world. I looked at history from the eyes of an animal. Lions are mongrels. No lion existed in Kerala but lion art did. Gir was where the imported lion was bred. It is only in a certain period of time that lions and cheetahs begin to appear in our texts and art. The shikar was stage-managed. I stumbled upon this information. This is my greatest delight in all this gloom.