I find myself still thinking about tigers and the rights of nature.
Last year, after I went to India on a study tour with the Sierra Club’s Global Population and Environment Program, I stayed on a bit longer and visited the state of Rajasthan. I had a desire to visit one of India’s tiger reserves, especially after having discussed tigers on our tour. I didn’t have much time, but enough to visit the Sariska Tiger Reserve in Alwar. This, despite the fact that I was familiar with this particular reserve’s checkered history. You see in 2004, it was discovered that there were no more tigers in Sariska, due to rampant poaching. Once it came out that a tiger reserve had no more tigers, a furor arose, and the government brought over a couple of tigers from nearby Ranthambore National Park. When I visited the reserve in late 2009, there were supposedly three tigers. Hope springeth eternal, and I thought I might be one of the lucky ones to sight a tiger. Alas, I was there for only one day, and needless to say, never set eyes on any of the three wild beasts.
I share this trip because last month I read that one of Sariska’s tigers was poisoned by a type of insecticide (by 2010 the tiger population had increased to five). A local villager has been arrested. Obviously this has raised concerns about the safety of tigers in the park. There are 28 villages inside Sariska, and now efforts are being stepped up to relocate villagers. When I visited I was told by a ranger that the people wanted to relocate. I wondered if that was true and hoped the park was working with the villagers to help them readjust. While I support protecting tigers, a balance has to be found and all rights — man and nature — upheld. People need to understand the value of nature but shouldn’t be forcibly displaced from their lands. There is a long history of peoples being forced off land without rights or consultation (such as the Maasai in Keyna or Bushmen in Botswana), causing friction and only short-term solutions. You can read an excellent article on “conservation refugees” by Mark Dowie, an investigative reporter, in Orion Magazine.
Education is key, and jobs. For starters, teaching respect for the environment, providing job training as rangers, staff and educators of the reserve, investing in eco-tourism and park protection, and empowering people to better their lives. Focus on the health of people, communities and wilderness. We’re all in this together. There are a lot of people in India, and we need to find a way, there and everywhere else on our planet, to live in balance. And respect life, all life.