Though a school dropout from Sunkam tribal settlement deep inside the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve, S. Babu holds the answer to the raging debate on tiger versus tribal, where tiger conservation and livelihood of forest-dwelling tribespeople fail to find a common ground.
A Malashar tribal man, Babu was seen busy on the eve of International Tiger Day, selecting a set of tiger images he captured from the sanctuary for a photo exhibition slated for Wednesday at the Palakkad District Collectorate.
The exhibition to be organised by the Parambikulam Tiger Foundation, comprising images captured by tribal forest watchers and tourist guides, will introduce to the outside world the rich biodiversity of the reserve and highlight its tiger conservation efforts.
It was only last year Babu started a website exclusively for the images he captured from the reserve. “A few years ago, the Forest Department computerised the Parambikulam Tourism Information Centre and Divisional Forest Office. The officials there trained me in computers and photography, and that was a big break,” said Babu.
According to B.N. Anjan Kumar, Deputy Director of the reserve, 234 members of six tribal settlements participate in the community-based eco-tourism now being practised at Parambikulam.
The tribespeople who were forced to sell their cattle and forgo other means of livelihood after the sanctuary became a tiger reserve are now employed as tourist guides, forest watchers, and helping hands for eco-tourism initiatives. The initiative was launched six years ago. Forest authorities could make rapid strides in initiatives relating to eco-tourism and effective forest management through the involvement of tribals.
“The Parambikulam Tiger Reserve has many firsts to its credit, made possible through the participation of tribals. The reserve has nearly five endemic flora varieties. It had 29 direct sightings of tigers,” said Mr. Kumar. Ever since the Joint Forest and Participatory Management was introduced, there have been no incidents of poaching in the reserve. Tribespeople have become part of the Social Tiger Protection Force and are effectively combating forest and wildlife-related offences.
Besides a rally, the reserve will observe International Tiger Day by conducting a quiz, screening of movies and a photo exhibition.