MOHAN ALEMBATH

If our endangered denizens of the wild are to survive, a committed band of frontline staff working hand in hand with local populace is needed

THE CASE of the disappearing tigers grabbed centre-stage for many days. There was a flurry of activity. A high power committee went into the malaise afflicting conservation. Yet one key issue remains unattended. This is the proper detailing of frontline staff in wildlife reserves.Many of our reserves do not have an adequate number of protection staff. The quality of existing staff in many places is abysmally poor. Often unwanted elements are thrust on hapless wildlife wardens. I can cite one specific incident in Eravikulam National Park, Kerala. A forester under suspension got reinstated after pulling strings. He reports before the local conservator for posting. In Kerala, the territorial conservator is in charge of postings in territorial and wildlife circles. The territorial conservator posts him in wildlife and that too in the prestigious Eravikulam National Park. Objections by the wildlife warden are brushed aside. He was told to "manage" the forester.

Committed staff

This is not an isolated incident. Tottering forest guards on the verge of retirement have been posted in wildlife reserves. There is no sincere effort to put in place a committed band of frontline staff. The story is not very different in other States.Eco-development and people's participation are quite all right. You won't get anywhere without people's participation in a thickly populated country like India. It is an integral part of any conservation initiative. The other side of the coin is that you need vigilant, committed, law enforcers to check mischief. You cannot escape from the fact that strong law enforcement handled by dedicated guys is the backbone of conservation.Building a band of dedicated frontline staff is not that difficult. In every recruitment programme there are at least a couple of guys who are keen about wildlife. Hand pick them and post them in wildlife. Over a period of 5 to 6 years a good team can be assembled. Give them proper training and incentives and at the end of say 10 years if they want to move out give them the posting they request for. I have been crying myself hoarse for well over 20 years for this. Except assurances during the wildlife week that vanish into thin air, nothing has materialised.

Training

Our training strategies for the frontline staff also need total revamping. They are not properly trained to handle the challenges thrown up by the burgeoning population. Investigation methods are antediluvian. What they get is ad hoc training that fails to address the issues on a wider scale. Coming back to wildlife conservation, we have the material but fritter away the chance to mould it in the initial stages. Trying to inculcate the ethics of wildlife conservation in forest guards who have put in years of service in regular forestry operations is sheer waste of time. The ideal would be staff that do not see any difference between wildlife and regular reserves and strive to protect wildlife sans boundaries. In the present scenario this is wishful thinking. If our endangered denizens of the wild are to survive, a committed band of frontline staff working hand in hand with local populace is needed. (The writer is a retired wildlife warden)

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