Attending a wedding in India is not what we imagined when we decided to study Tropical Forestry in Tharandt. But the opportunity to get to know people from all over the world brought us to a different longitude in the tropics. Each kilometer we flew meant it was the farthest we have been from our homes. The distance was not only perceived in kilometers, but in the cultural and landscape differences with our home countries, Colombia and Ecuador.
Not only that, but reencountering fellow foresters from the master program in such a unique environment seemed unbelievable to us. After an emotive and colorful wedding, uncountable temples, crowded cities, masalas and chapatis, we arrived to Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve. A silent hidden treasure, that shelter a great number of rare species including threatened birds and a healthy population of tigers, the top predator of this ecosystem.
To see all of this we first had to go through a control at the entrance of the park, where we had to present our passports, pay for the entrance, the guide service and camera fee, in addition to the vehicle fee that we had reserved and payed months in advance. As foresters, the management of a wildlife reserve was pretty interesting to us, so the benefit sharing for all these fees was a good insight to the management principles of the reserve. Approximately 53% of the gross income goes to the forest department, which is in charge of maintaining the infrastructure of the reserve and for the administration duties, such as authorizing guides activities. Another good amount of money (40%) goes to the guides association, which redistributes the benefits to the private jeep companies and guides, who usually live in the buffer or core area of the reserve. It was surprising for us to realize that from the 3550 Rs. (approx. 43 €) that the association get from each safari, the guides only get 300 Rs. (approx. 3.8 €), and the jeep drivers a fraction of this, since they get a monthly payment of 5000 Rs (approx 62 €). This made us wonder of the degree of participation and power that the inhabitants of the reserve have over its management.
Following the entrance control we drove around the reserve sicking for a female tiger that was sighted a few days ago around a man-made lake. Our keen guide took us to the site and after quietly waiting for some minutes, she appeared. In a peaceful way the tiger started to swim and to enjoy the fresh water regardless of our presence. These animals are used to humans, due to the strict rules from the reserve to avoid any disturbance, promoting this way ecotourism activities. Nonetheless, we knew we were very lucky to have such an encounter; tigers are still one of the four most difficult sightings in the reserve, together with leopards, sloths and wild dogs. The feeling of seeing a tiger in its natural environment moving with the freedom that this forest allows them, was unforgettable. This experience definitely enhanced our perception of the value of protected areas.
Even if human-made water bodies, roads, and safaris sound already like disturbance for nature, it would not be possible to maintain this piece of forest without the revenue from tourism. But as mentioned before, strict rules are enforced in the reserve, including the ban to fuelwood and non-timber forest products collection. Four villages were already removed from inside of the core area, and the last two remaining are planned to be relocated in the future. Since a relocation can derive in difficult socio-economic problematics, we questioned ourselfs how much pressure local villagers are in fact putting on natural resources, and which are their actual rights over the use of a forest on which their livelihoods depend. From the guide point of view, these villagers find benefits from being relocated as they would gain access to services that urban areas provide and would avoid the risk that the tigers may represent to them.
Overall, we can say that the work that the Indian Forest Department is doing to manage the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve seems to be a difficult task. Several stakeholders take part and struggle to fulfill their interests, including the guide association, the state government, the villagers inside the core and buffer area, the ones in the surrounding settlements, private drivers of the safari gypsy cars, guides and researchers. To avoid conflicts such as illicit cutting of trees, collection of forest products and poaching, teak plantations have been encouraged in private land as an alternative source of income. Biogas plants and LPG connections have been installed in some villages to reduce the dependency on fuelwood. These actions are meant to provide alternatives for a sustainable use of the forest resources and to cultivate a positive attitude towards the forest department.
For us, was cheerful to hear that our guide, as a villager of the core area of the reserve, in fact still had a optimistic attitude towards the forest. For him the meaning of forest goes according to each of its letters:
Tigers and Timber
By Gabriela Huidobro and Nicole Acosta