Apoorva Joshi

PhD student - Information and Media; Environmental Science and Policy @Michigan State University

Independent journalist -

Environment, Science, International

Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve also in Trouble?

There is this one Tiger Reserve that barely gets any flak. According to me, it's mainly because what happens here barely gets out of this place. Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, the best place to see the Tiger and the glory of Madhya Pradesh in India, is also facing its share of problems. And in the centre of it all, is our very own Tiger.
There are 3 zones in Bandhavgarh; 1)Tala, 2)Magdhi, 3)Khitauli. Zone 1 is the most popular one. There are 41 guides who work here. In 2005 (year not confirmed), some 15 more were hired. These were posted at Zone 2 - Magdhi. Now, since Magdhi isn't as popular with the tourists as Tala is, hardly anyone visits this zone.
Here one needs to understand that tourism, is a very important tool for indirect patrolling of these Tiger Reserves and all Protected Areas. So when 45 vehicles, each with a maximum of 6 people enter the Tala zone, Tala automatically gets its patrolling done in the form of tourists who are on the look out for Tigers and other wildlife in the Reserve. And all the information collected during these safaris about Tiger sightings, is then passed on to the Forest Department which basically derives from these sightings that the Tigers that were seen are safe, in good health, and are eating well. Similarly, if a Tiger or Tigress is spotted with an injury or is seen limping or weak, the Department can take immediate steps to treat the concerned animal. Unfortunately, this doesn't really happen.
There is a Tigress who is undoubtedly, one of the most gorgeous Tigresses I have ever seen. She truly is, Royal! Chorbehera. She currently has 2 young cubs. This Tigress, has for a long time now, been limping due to an injury on her left hind leg. It has been quite a while since she started limping such that some guides actually refer to her as "Langdi". A while ago, a few guides reported having seen Chorbehera and her cubs in a very frail and weak condition. They hadn't eaten in more than 3 days and since she has an injury, it is very difficult for her to make a kill and hunt with the same efficiency she once displayed. The guides told this to the Range Officer, Mr.Lalit Kumar Pandey who's response was not only shocking but an absolute insult to his position as well. He promptly asked the guide to bring "roti sabzi" from home the next day and feed the Tigress and her cubs.
Mr.Pandey is the same Range Officer who would make receipts for about 200 out of 250 or 300 Tiger show rides. These Tiger shows happen with the help of Elephants. Tourists sit on the Elephants who can approach the Tigers up close and this gives tourists a great chance to observe Tigers from hardly any distance.
Personally, Im not someone who is in favour of Tiger shows. But that is not the issue at hand. The issue is, that Mr.Pandey has conveniently gobbled up 25000 INR a day thanks to keeping 5 to 10 Tiger show receipts all to himself. And in a matter of time, Mr.Pandey had more money than most middle class people earn per month.
The guides in Bandhavgarh, particularly in Zone 1, had been asking the new Director Mr.Patil, to transfer the newly appointed 15 guides in Zone 2. Being in zone 2, gives them a chance to indirectly patrol a zone that is rarely visited. And one VERY basic fact of the matter is, the number of gypsies entering the Reserve is exactly the same as the no.of guides that go into the Reserve WITH each gypsy. It's one guide per gypsy. So 41 cars in zone 1 means 41 guides have work for the day. And yes, they do NOT have a fixed salary. They get paid according to each safari for which they go into the park.
The guides at Zone 2 hardly ever get to enter the park because of the lack of visiting tourists. So, they have an alternative source of income because they work elsewhere. And this, means they get a steady income at least, even if it isnt a bomb.
Problem is, the new Director wants to shift them all to Zone 1, Tala. Which will mean that 41 guides at Tala plus these new chaps making it about 60 guides in all. Now, the number of gypsies allowed within Tala at a time is 45. Which means only 45 guides will actually GET work and that too, IF 45 gypsies are booked and there ARE that many people in the first place. So if that many people don't come, a huge number of guides if left without work as opposed to at least some of them having some other work. This reduces their income.
And when these very guides asked that the Tiger shows be conducted in zone 2 instead of zone 1, they were shot down without being given any logical reasons whatsoever. It is important that the Elephants be used in zone 2 to monitor the Tigers there because if Tiger shows happen in zone 2, that means the Range Officer, and other well positioned officers are required to visit that area where the Tiger/s have been spotted. This brings in official as well as unofficial monitoring into a zone about which BARELY anything is known.
Last year, there was Tigress with 3 young cubs in that zone and she was poisoned to death. The post mortem reports concluded that she had died due to poisoning. That she had been killed. Poached. Instead of conducting a proper dedicated investigation, INNOCENT people from the villagers who play a role as forest beat guards, were picked up and framed.
An innocent villager was asked to pick up a bottle of poison which was lying in the vicinity and when he unknowingly, picked it up because the officer wanted him to hand it over, a photo was clicked with him holding the bottle. This was used to frame the poor chap in a false case that was made against a few such people who were accused of killing that Tigress.
All this, because the Central government and a few Tiger Conservation biggies had been putting immense pressure of the Forest dept at Bandhavgarh to crack the case and get to the bottom of these ridiculous crimes.
I just returned from Bandhavgarh and while I was there, a Leopard was electrocuted in a nearby village because of the electric wires. A few years ago, the famous Tigress, Sita also, died "mysteriously". And no one knows what killed her and how. B2 the famous Bandhavgarh veteran Tiger, lost his brothers too. B3 was again, electrocuted.
As opposed to what the world thinks, Bandhavgarh IS in trouble.
From tomorrow, the 41 guides of Tala are going on strike because they feel that they are not getting their due, and the Tiger isn't getting his/her due either. Because since the time they have brought the problems of the park to the notice of the officers and the public, the Range Officer has gone all out against them.
And at this point, I'd like to say, that these guides, these drivers, who go into the park everyday, are VERY important sources of information and that is precisely why they should be respected, and appreciated for the work they do. If we stop looking at them and their work as that of chapraasis (beggars), and look at them with the same respect we have for the Indian Army or other Governmental forces, I honestly think it will make a difference to both, the Department, and us.
More on the strike as soon as I get updated on the situation. Till then, I hope things work out, because in the end, the greater good of the Tiger is our largest concern.

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