Tribal Communities Living in Wildlife Reserves: Help or Hindrance to protecting wildlife like Tigers?
Tribal Communities Living in Wildlife Reserves: Help or Hindrance to protecting wildlife like Tigers? This month’s Sierra Magazine contains an article by Michael Benanav titled “The Tiger Watchers” that discusses an ongoing debate over whether natives living in wildlife reserves (in this case, tiger reserves in India) are a help or hindrance to protecting species. Benanav discusses his talks with natives who live in or near Biligiri Rangaswamy Tiger (BRT) Reserve in India. The tribal community says that the tigers “are holy animals” and that they “never kill them” but can coexist with them. Indeed, the regional Forest Department uses some of them as “tiger watchers” who patrol the forest and try to assist in the prevention of poaching of tigers. The government of India has been involved in tiger conservation since 1972 when the “Wildlife Protection Act” was passed that expanded tiger sanctuaries a few to now more than 50. This expansion was accompanied by eviction of natives living in these areas—more than a million people. The main causes of the threats to tiger were habitat loss (forest) and hunting. However, after 2000, some conservationists began to become concerned with the rights of the evictees and a new law, the Forest Rights Act of 2006, was passed that “guarantees the right of traditional forest dwellers to live on and use the lands” they had traditionally occupied and an amendment was passed that gave people protection from eviction, though Benanav says that the forest government are run by Indian states—not the national government and that actual policy and implementation varies by the state. Tribal rightists and their supporters claim that the natives help to prevent poaching. Indeed, they point to the increase in BRT reserve tiger numbers from 35 to 68 as evidence that they can coexist if not help preserve tiger populations. In other reserves, the tiger populations have remain largely static. The contrary viewpoint is argued by the head of the Wildlife Conservation Society India Program, Dr. Ullas Karanth, who states that the recovery and growth of tiger populations in BRT has been due to “regulation” and enforcement of hunting bans. He states that adult female tigers require 40 miles of territory and thus it is impossible to have people nearby “raising cattle, doing agriculture and hunting the prey species.” He also argues that these families will want “electricity, clean drinking water, a decent house, and a bus to …take their kids to a nearby school” and thus over the long term, the desires of these natives will be incompatible with their living in a protected reserve for tigers. The debate reminds me of the issues over whether humans should engage in controlled ivory-rhino horn-whale consummatory uses—some logical arguments can be made in favor of these activities helping to preserve wildlife species but there are contrary views and data. Perhaps “time will tell” so that with inevitable population growth and development around protected areas in India and other countries which argument has truth on its side. The article by Benanav is available at: http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2017-4-july-august/feature/can-tribes-and-tigers-coexist-indias-nature-reserves
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