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Tiger reserves: Economic and environmental win-win

Saving the predator: Tigers are what conservationists call “umbrella” species. By saving them, we save everything beneath their ecological umbrella.

Saving the predator: Tigers are what conservationists call “umbrella” species. By saving them, we save everything beneath their ecological umbrella.   | Photo Credit: M_A_SRIRAM ;M_A_SRIRAM -

The headline in a recent PTI report “Saving 2 tigers gives more value than Mangalyaan”’ was intriguing, since it said that saving two tigers yields a capital benefit of ₹520 crores, while Mangalyaan cost us ₹450 crores. The headline was both exciting and hurtful. Excited by it, I contacted Professor Madhu Verma of the Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM), Bhopal, and she shared with me both a detailed report of 2015 titled: “Economic Evaluation of Tiger Reserves in India: A VALUE + Approach” (available free on the net as NTCA_Report 2015.pdf) and their recent research publication: “Making the Hidden Visible: Economic Valuation of Tiger Reserves in India” which appeared in the journal Ecosystem Services; 26 (2017): 236-244. Both were eye openers!

Putting a price on Nature and commodifying it may hurt our sensibilities. On the other hand, the authors of the above paper point out that an economic analysis helps in determining the quantity of goods such as fuel wood, and fodder that can be allowed for extraction by local communities, based on trade-offs with other services. Such economic analysis also highlights why such “large” areas are reserved for preserving fierce animals like the tiger, when we need more land for human use.

What is the total amount of land set apart for the 18 ranges as tiger reserves? It is 68,000 square km, which is about 2% of the area of India – set apart for the nation’s pride animal. A tiger reserve is not just for the tiger. The six reserves (Corbett, Kanha, Kaziranga, Periyar, Ranthambore, Sunderbans) that the team has studied house many other animals such as the elephant, rhino, langur, barasingha, mongoose, river dolphin, olive ridley turtle, crocodile — not to speak of the millions of herbs, plants and trees.

What is the point in saving tigers?

Why save this ferocious animal at all? Tigers are what conservationists call “umbrella” species. By saving them, we save everything beneath their ecological umbrella - everything connected to them - including the world's last great forests, whose carbon storage mitigates climate change. Vidya Venkat has written more about it in this newspaper of April 17, 2016.

What all does a tiger reserve offer? The 2017 paper above lists the following: (1) employment generation, (2) agriculture (incidentally the famous IR-8 rice was discovered from the wild rice plants found in one such reserve), (3) fishing, (4) fuel wood, (5) fodder and grazing, (6) timber, (7) pollination of plants, (8) kendu leaves, (9) carbon storage and sequestration (vital for climate protection against global warming), (10) water and its purification by filtering organic wastes, (11) soil conservation, (12) nutrient cycling, and (13) moderation of extreme events such as cyclone storms, flash floods. Add to these cultural ones like tourism, education, research and development, and spiritual ones (like visiting temples within some of them).

Tiger reserves: Economic and environmental win-win

The approach, termed VALUE+, that the group uses has two components. The VALUE part indicates that the annual cost of putting together and maintaining the above six tiger reserves is about ₹23 crores. But then, what about the “flow benefits”? Take the Periyar Tiger Reserve as an example. VALUE estimates that this Reserve generates ₹17.6 billion (or ₹1.9 lakhs per hectare) per year. How? For example it helps provide water to Tamilnadu districts, amount to ₹4.05 billions /year. Or, take the famous Corbett Park (which is supposed to have the “maneaters of Kumaon”). Its flow benefit per year is ₹14.7 billion (₹1.14 lakhs per hectare). And it provides water to some parts of Uttar Pradesh (at ₹1.61 billion per year) and Delhi (₹530 million per year). In effect, the ratio of benefits to management costs is anywhere from 200 to 530. It is worth investing and managing reserves! And the + sign part in the study highlights benefits for which a monetary number is currently not possible (such as the “umbrella” mentioned above).

Eye-openers, aren’t they? The <NTCA_Report 2015.pdf> should be made compulsory reading and analysis material for students in economics, business management, environmental sciences and biology. School children in cities should be taken to interact with children and parents near (and in) the reserve areas, and learn from (and respect) them. And we must support efforts to increase and sustain the budget for such reserves - after all they cost but a few crores of rupees per reserve per year. Let us express our deep appreciation to the scientists and conservationist (the unsung heroes and heroines) at the IIFM and similar agencies for their outstanding work!

Now, why the hurt by the PTI headline which said that saving 2 tigers gives more value than Mangalyaan? I felt that this bizarre comparison mocks at ISRO’S efforts. In this connection, I am reminded of the remark made by the famous biochemist Professor Erwin Chargaff during my PhD viva voce exam. He said: “Young man! Why are you studying protein structure when you should be back in India, making sulfuric acid from hay?” What we need in India is both protein structure and sulphuric acid —both Tiger Reserves and Mangalyaan. The latter may not directly help the reserves, but ISRO’S satellite surveys certainly do. Thank you ISRO!


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Printable version | Sep 30, 2020 7:07:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/tiger-reserves-economic-and-environmental-win-win/article19331836.ece

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