Driving tigers to the brink

By Sanjay Gubbi, ILCW Member (India)

Previously published by the IUCN Newsletter

The survival of tigers in the wild depends lagely upon the willingness of the tiger range countries to ensure adequate protection of sufficiently large areas from inappropriate development and activities such as roads and poaching.

Roads and traffic threaten tigers across their range in many ways. Research on Amur tigers in Russia suggests that direct mortality due to vehicle collisions can reduce survivorship and reproductive success of the species. The death of individual tigers also results in social instability. The death of a territorial male can lead to infighting of transient males trying to establish territories, infanticide by the new territorial male, and it also affects tigresses due to unstable male ranges possibly leading to depressed birth-rates. Chital and sambar, principal prey species for tigers in the tropical forests of south Asia are one of the commonly killed species in vehicular collisions, resulting in reduced food source for tigers.

Furthermore, roads are used for illegal activities including hunting of tiger and their prey. In the Russian Far East, six Amur tigers were poached over a 10-year period along one road. In 2010, poachers apprehended in southern India confessed to be illegally hunting chital and other deer species in Bandipur, Bhadra, and Biligirirangaswamy Tiger Reserves by driving on roads at night time.

Highways and vehicular traffic act as barriers for movement of tigers affecting their dispersal, movement patterns thereby splitting populations into sub-populations that cause several direct and indirect effects.

Tigers have been affected by new roads in many parts of their range. In western Malaysia construction of the North-South highway, and another highway that bisected a bottleneck area in Taman Negara National Park has caused fragmentation of tiger habitats. The wildlife corridors between Nepal and India are threatened by upgradation of a highway. The effects of roads are serious in India, a stronghold of the global tiger population.

The spike in India’s growth over the last decade has involved a considerable expansion of infrastructural development projects. However, the welcome benefits of economic development have gone hand-in-hand with serious costs both to people and wildlife, especially those that are wide-ranging such as the tigers. Among these, road and highway projects, which provide the vital foundation on which other sectors of the economy can be built, have received a huge boost. This, in turn, has triggered a rapid growth of motor vehicles in India at 10 – 12% per year, and further intensified the demand for better roads. Often, road improvement and highway development projects are proposed within India’s protected area (PA) network, which forms a mere 5% of the country’s landscape. Roads passing through several key tiger habitats, including Corbett, Kanha, Bandipur, BRT, Anshi-Dandeli, Kudremukh, are listed for resurfacing or conversion to highways.

Unlike many forested tracts of Africa, South America or in South East Asia, where road projects open up frontier areas to markets, in India road and highway projects have primarily involved an enhancement in the quality of existing roads, setting off proximate increases in vehicular activity, rather than fundamentally altering connectivity patterns, although important exceptions exist.

Although these roads enhance connectivity between key economic centres, the upgrading of minor roads to high-speed highways also poses a serious threat to tigers and other wildlife. The current rate of mortality of tigers due to wildlife-vehicle collision in India appears to be relatively low, with approximately 20 documented tiger deaths in various reserves over the past 15 years; although this number is likely an underestimate due to non-detection in some instances. Furthermore, as the population size declines and the road network expands, the direct and indirect effects of mortality due to collision with vehicles and fragmentation of tiger habitats will become a greater concern.

In the past the Nature Conservation Foundation has worked with the government in southern India that has resulted in closure of highways for vehicular traffic at night (when the negative effect of traffic is the highest) through two key tiger reserves, development of alternate roads for highways that are closed to vehicular traffic at night, and realignment of a stretch of a highway to outside a tiger reserve. Such moves by the government is extremely helpful in reducing impacts on tigers and their prey.

Given the strong likelihood of changes to vehicular density in India and other tiger range countries, wherever possible, alternative road alignments need to be developed so that high-speed traffic can be permanently kept out of key tiger habitats. Similarly, the closure of vehicular traffic at night, when wildlife, especially young ones, are most susceptible to road-kills, may also be an advisable option inside PAs.

One of a tiger range country’s biggest challenges today is how they could reconcile the pursuit of economic growth with the protection of integrity of tiger habitats. To make economic growth and human development sustainable requires the identification, understanding, and alleviation of the ecological costs of growth and development without forsaking their benefits.

Although roads and other infrastructure are important for economic development, poor planning, disregard of ecological aspects and excessive road expansion into tiger habitats will further fragment and destroy populations and their habitats in the long-term.

For tiger conservation, there is no escape but to invest in a more holistic process of development planning that includes—rather than ignores—the conservation of our priceless natural heritage.

Our experiences in India offer key lessons on managing the impact of roads in the tiger’s range:

  • The most effective mitigation strategy is to decommission existing roads from tiger landscapes, particularly from source populations, and re-route them outside important habitats and prevent construction of new roads;
  • Effective mitigation of road impacts requires engagement of all levels of government and the community;
  • Dedicated wildlife crossing structures will likely be required in tiger landscapes because standard drainage structures alone are ineffective at mitigating the negative effects of roads and traffic.
  • International funding agencies are financing the rapid rate of construction of roads in many tiger-range countries and they must become involved in measures to ensure these developments do not further endanger the persistence of tigers.
  • Rigorous and peer-scrutinised Environment Impact Assessments (EIA) by trained wildlife biologists should assess the broader impacts of roads rather than focussing on the physical aspects of their construction. Second, it is essential that the EIA process be changed such that development projects that are already approved in PAs be assessed on a continuing basis for unforeseen impacts, and post-hoc mitigation measures are legally mandated where necessary to reduce such impacts on tiger habitats.

Sanjay Gubbi is a Scientist at the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF)

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When a tiger has no value

By Margi Prideaux, ILCW Member (Australia)

 Nature is being monetized by global capitalism,
and it is about to get much worse.
Can it be halted?

Bengal tiger, Rajasthan India.
Photographer: Dibyendu Ash, Wikimedia Commons, CC by-SA 3.0

A few weeks ago the World Wide Fund for Nature released their latest Living Planet Report. Its findings have reverberated around the world, with the bleak news that the 3,706 wildlife populations that are actively monitored by scientists have declined by an average of 58 per cent since 1970 because of agriculture, fisheries, mining and other human activities. The report’s authors predict that this figure will reach 67 per cent by the end of the decade. How on earth has this happened?

The answer that’s often put forward is that wildlife protection laws in the ‘lawless’ regions of the world are woefully inadequate (meaning large swathes of Africa and Asia), but the true root of the problem is that nature is being monetized in order to generate profits for investors and corporations in a process that’s facilitated by changes in the structure of global governance—and it’s about to get much worse. Unless we get to grips with the real issues at stake, the destruction of nature is all-but guaranteed, except in those few parts of the world that are set aside as reserves for the enjoyment of wealthy visitors.

Since European countries first reached out and colonized distant lands, Africa, Asia and Latin America have been a ‘resource hinterland’ for global capitalism—an economic system that has transferred wealth from poor to rich countries through the extraction of mineral and biological resources. Large areas of forest have been cleared to make way for the mono-culture of crops like palm oil, soya bean, biofuels and timber on a massive scale. Mining carves ruinous scars across whole landscapes, poisoning the water for both people and wildlife downstream. And large factory ships are plundering fisheries for the tables of the world’s elite.

This system robs the world of the biodiversity we collectively need to survive. More poignantly, it robs communities in Africa, Asia, South America and the Arctic of their rights, resources and connections with their environments and the wildlife they contain. These are the very communities who still retain the wisdom and experience to protect the world’s wild places.

Many people who have stood against this tide have been evicted from their ancestral lands. Some have been murdered. Global Witness has documented the fact that that more than three people were killed each week during 2015 defending their lands, forests and rivers against destructive industries. Yet the profits that are made from these industries are more than enough to maintain the forward momentum of the system. More money flows from these hinterland economies each year than they receive in foreign direct investment and foreign aid combined. In 2011, for example, oil, gas and mineral exports from Africa were worth US$382 billion—more than eight times the value of development aid received by African countries in that year.

This money streams through mechanisms for cross-border accounting, tax evasion and the repatriation of profits that are designed and maintained by wealthy countries; facilitated by the institutional secrecy that is built into the global financial system; and controlled by corporate elites. In a shadow economy that flows alongside the economy we see, commercial tax dodgers and criminals shift vast amounts of money across international borders quickly, easily and largely undetected. Hundreds of billions of dollars pour into western coffers each year, from both streams, leaving little behind for those whose lands and wildlife have been plundered.

The only way to reverse this process is to institute a system of global governance that actually does what it says—govern the extraction of natural resources, the destruction of wildlife, and the flows of money that are fed by these things across national borders. But international rules and regulations in this field are evolving in ways that are far too soft to have much impact. How so?

In 2008, the world economy stood at the edge of an abyss, confronted by the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. In response, a powerful new forum called the G20 was born, representing the 20 largest economies. The United Nations (UN) tentatively embraced the emergence of this new group and offered its New York headquarters as the site of the G20 summit meetings, but their overtures were declined and the UN was gradually marginalised from the process—something that should have set the alarm bells ringing. With hindsight it appears as though the G20’s founders wanted to explore new relationships in international economics unhindered by the democracy and transparency of the UN.

Shortly afterwards the World Economic Forum (or Davos for short) started to frame its own path forward which fits squarely into the philosophy of the G20 and other groups like it. Called the ‘Global Redesign Initiative,’ its aim is to marginalize intergovernmental decision-making and install ‘multi-stakeholder governance’ in its place. “In the world of Davos,” as commentator Nick Buxton wrote in 2014, “the tired old slow world of democratic demands channelled through states is replaced by a slicker, fast moving, corporate-led governance” which places tremendous power in the hands of the very few. Buxton’s report for the Transnational Institute reveals that the world’s wealth is even more concentrated than is often understood—not in the one per cent of the world’s population but in the 0.001 per cent. A mere 111,000 people control a fifth of the world’s gross national product (GNP), worth US$16.3 trillion.

The Davos proposal is that key sectors of the economy, and whole regions of countries, should be governed by corporations with the support of other stakeholders who they invite to the table. The most attractive parts of the world from this point of view are those that are resource rich but governance poor, where the large-scale extraction of mineral and biological resources is still possible, in part because local structures for oversight and accountability are weak. Extractive economies are much more difficult to operate in places where these structures are strong and democratic, and where the probability of a public outcry is therefore high.

There’s another problem here: communities whose traditional lands sit on top of gold, oil or timber are obvious targets for attack. But what happens to wildlife that offers no obvious source of profit? If a tiger has no value, why would it be saved? This is where the monetization of nature is so important.

In 2014, the writer Charles Eisenstein published a piece on openDemocracy that expanded on this phenomenon. We must recognise that “some things are beyond measure and price” as he put it, warning of the dangers of relying on numbers and financial data for decision-making. There are many things we don’t measure, either by choice (because they interfere with established power relationships); because our understanding is incomplete; or because some things are simply un-measurable—like beauty, connectedness, spiritual fulfilment or the sight of reindeer, wolves and golden eagles living with the Dukha in Mongolia.

When I wake up in the morning the sound I hear is of a magpie’s warble. These birds and their unique and haunting song, as well as the kangaroos that stand on the ridge at dusk close to my home, are part of the culture in which I live, and the community to which I belong to. People elsewhere, in South Africa, Pakistan, Russia or Peru will wake up to different sounds and vistas, but our landscapes are never empty places; nor are they commodities to sell. They are filled with a different kind of richness which we value in other ways. They are filled with wildlife with which we commune.

That’s why we can’t let the monetary value of nature be used as the criterion for governance. A tiger has value because it is a tiger, because it is priceless in and of itself. That’s why it should be saved, but under the rule of ‘Davos man’ this is most unlikely. In fact monetizing wildlife leads to over exploitation wherever money can be made, and under protection where it can’t. The only real solution is to reject the underlying philosophy of nature as a profit centre. Everything else follows from that shift.

The World Economic Forum will meet again in Davos in January 2017, under the now-familiar umbrella of “improving global governance through public-private cooperation.” However, power can only be ceded to the Global Redesign Initiative and similar efforts if we as citizens allow it. Instead, we should demand that our governments actually govern in the interests of the vast majority of their populations, and of the wild species among whom we want to live. We can demand that global conservation is democratized to protect what we see as precious, sacred, special and important, not what makes most money for corporations. Wherever we have democracy, we must assert our control.

Tigers, elephants, forests, wetlands and rivers are not commodities whose value can be siphoned off into the pockets of investors and ignored when they don’t make a profit. They are our collective inheritance.

***

Margi Prideaux is an international wildlife policy writer, negotiator and academic. She has worked within the conservation movement for 25 years. She writes at www.wildpolitics.co and you can follow her on twitter @WildPolitics.

***

This article was original published on openDemocracy, 7 November 2016

Machli, the Tigress Who Reigned Over Ranthambhore

By Neha Sinha, ILCW member (India)
Previously published by The WIRE

Consider this: a lifetime achievement award for rendering services to conservation and tourism was bestowed on her. A stamp was dedicated to her. When she breathed her last, policemen hoisted her garlanded body onto their shoulders, and several departments joined hands in giving her a ceremonial funeral. Her children are well established. And – we are talking of a tigress.
Machli, a matriarch of four tiger litters in Ranthambhore tiger reserve, passed away this week (the week of August 14, 2016). In her death, as in her life, Machli was larger than life even as the world in the wild is inscrutable. ‘Striking’ may be one way of describing the image of seeing a whiskered, striped, giant non-human head on the collective shoulders of policemen – and thus the shoulders of the state. And Machli was striking as much in what she did – she was a strutting, fearless and bold tigress – as for what she seemed to stand for. Known by epithets such as the ‘oldest tiger in the world’ (she lived up to nearly 20 years) and the ‘most photographed tiger in the world’, Machli seemed to fulfil a human need to rely on witnessing a wild, fierce animal, and believe in that animal’s legend.
It is perhaps with Machli that deeply personal associations with individual wild animals started in India. For instance, following the disappearance of the burly tiger Jai from Umred this year, departmental teams have gone out searching for him, Facebook dedications have followed and several columns of newsprint filled. Last year, another Ranthambhore tiger, Ustad, created a furor he was utterly unaware of: a decision to move him to a zoo after he allegedly killed a forest guard was replete with emotional and political controversy. Ustad lovers took out candle light marches in various Indian cities under the banner of ‘Je Suis Ustad‘, demanding his release from “incarceration and imprisonment”. A case was filed in the Rajasthan high court asking that Ustad remain in Ranthambhore, though he was eventually moved to a zoo. It was alleged that Ustad became a scapegoat for some sections of the park establishment who thought he was dangerouz
If this intense, personal ownership of an animal is to augur something for conservation, Machli was certainly a pioneer for the personality-driven, anthropomorphised conservation. She has been the subject of entire calendars, documentaries, photographs, and a Wikipedia page, and has been the centre of lore.
The first fleck of legend comes from the truth: in her boldness, Machli showed generations of photographers and tourists rare insights into tiger sociology and behaviour. She weaved in and out of tourist vehicles in Ranthambhore with her nose in the air, without batting an eyelid and without annoyance. “She was a remarkably confident tigress. She has mated out in the open, she walked with her cubs out in the open, and she never seemed to mind the presence of people,” says Belinda Wright, who runs the Wildlife Protection Society of India. Wright recalls how Machli took on a crocodile, defending her cubs and their meal. In a battle that lasted almost 90 minutes, she lost two canines. But while qualities of maternal love, protectiveness, courage and valour are universally feted and recognised by humans, Machli’s role in Ranthambhore and Sariska’s tiger biology is the most important.
“Machli dominated the Ranthambhore lake area for nearly a decade. And her confidence in front of tourists and cameras made her the subject of many photos. But the most important part is that she has repopulated Ranthambhore with her cubs and stabilised the park’s population,” Wright says.
It wasn’t just Ranthambhore.
By 2005, Sariska had lost all its tigers to poaching. In the times of modern tiger conservation, where the movement has both had negligence as well as the political resolve to restore tiger reserves, it was two of Machli’s progeny that were captured and airlifted to Sariska to repopulate the reserve.
‘Ma Machli’, ‘Queen Mother’ and ‘Lady of the Lake’ were nicknames given to the tigress. But her maternal’ identity also gave a solid peek into tiger behaviour: tigers maintain their own territories, ousting cubs, especially males. They guard this territory for life. “Machli was a long-lived tigress who lived longer than the average age of a tiger. She was a classic example of philopatry. She stayed around her natal area, and she also allowed her female litters to live in an adjoining territory,” says Rajesh Gopal, former member secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority. “Her iconic status needs to be used to further strengthen tiger conservation. A lot of credit goes to field personnel for monitoring her.”
This closeness felt to an individual animal, the naming, and the almost-human status, has not been without its critics. For instance, many believe that wild animals should not be anthropomorphised, named, or otherwise artificially attended to. After Machli lost her canine teeth, she was often provided with bait, and some other tigers in Ranthambhore too have been provided medical attention. Some conservationists believe that we should not interfere with the natural world, and only the fittest should survive. It is also alleged that making celebrity animals can interfere with the attention other species or lesser-seen individuals may need.
Others believe that living in the Anthropocene epoch, occasional interventions are now a fair part of ecology. This central debate is epitomised by Machli’s very long life and her survival.
“Ranthambhore is a very small park and it is surrounded by human pressures. It is not a regular practice for us to feed tigers or give them medical attention. We only do it occasionally,” G.V. Reddy, the chief wildlife warden of Rajasthan told The Wire. Machli was born in 1997, when Reddy was a divisional forest officer in Ranthambhore. Like many others, Reddy believes Machli was a special tigress, surviving many battles and long years.
It is true that if not for her own pluck, as well as an anthropogenic helping hand, Machli would not have had a state-sponsored, ceremonial cremation and an obituary written in a human language. But while debates for or against humanising tigers, and questions that examine the interplay of emotions and science continue, one thing is for sure. Machli shows us what happens if we give solid protection to tigers. “She has shown us what robust genes and family lines can emerge if we protect a wild tiger,” Reddy says. “She shows us the possibilities of tiger conservation.”
Neha Sinha is a Delhi-based conservationist.

Tigers in the Backyard

A film from the Last Wilderness Foundation, India

Tigers and man have existed together in India for many years, but the need for space and sharing of resources has led to a slight imbalance, thereby frequenting the conflict scenario between the two. Communication and interaction with the villagers has helped form an invisible bridge and a relatively visible communication channel between the Forest department and villagers. This initiative started by Last Wilderness Foundation (LWF) 4 years ago, has led to a smoother management of conflict situations in the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve. This communication channel has also helped in sensitising the villagers and children towards the biodiversity that exists around them and helps them regain the ownership, which otherwise they feel is lost in the struggle for conservation. Apart from conservation outreach, LWF also engages in training programmes for the Forest Department to help equip them with the necessary management skills. To further the cause of awareness; LWF has also developed conservation education materials which helps maintain touch points with the villagers. For more information about the Last Wilderness Foundation, click thelastwilderness and bhavnamenon.blogspot

Roads are killing tigers, wildlife, and those who don’t drive

By Neha Sinha ILCW member (India)
(This article originally appeared in the dailyO)
On Saturday night, a young tiger was killed on a road near Dehradun.
You may think: are there tigers in Dehradun? Where was the tiger going? What were we doing on Saturday night – were we on a road, heading to a party, or on a leafy residential lane, propelling ourselves to a quiet, music-suffused evening at home?
For the more imaginative among us, we could remember tales of animals and beasts that crossed roads in our parent’s time, or the joke about the chicken crossing a road. For others, it may seem odd; after all, how many countries in the world can say a tiger was crossing the road?
There are many aspects that are amazing and diverse about our country. Those who use roads – or hate using them, is one of them.
There are many among us who think that a set of gleaming, black-topped roads, winding for miles, visible from a plane, is a sure sign that the nation is on the right track, the path to prosperity – literally.
And yet there are others for whom roads, built for cars – are not such good news. I have met tribal people who prefer cutting through forests than taking a road or a bus trip, because the walk through the forests, leeches et al, is shorter than traversing a dusty, noisy, pushy road.
The National Highway from Delhi, just before Agra, cuts a town in half, with a tall iron fence dividing the area into two. What do people do to cross the road? They run for their lives. Sometimes, they clamber over the forbidding fence in the mid-day northern heat. Sometimes they walk half a kilometre to find a crossing, broken apart forcibly, or at a red-light meant for cars.
In north Delhi’s Yamuna bypass, I often see women hitching up their sarees, sprinting wild-eyed across the road, denied dignity or safety. In Kolkata’s tragic flyover collapse this April which left 24 people dead, one of the most obvious lacuna in the much-delayed project was that the flyover was being made in an old, crumbling part of the city.
There was neither the passage nor the engineering rationale to build this gigantic structure, which was within arm’s length from century-old buildings. The purpose of this flyover, like many other roads, was to serve the car-using, motorised public, to the peril of all that was around this road.
Now coming to wildlife. Wild animals do sometimes use roads. To be more specific, they are forced to use roads, as roads without speed breakers cut through national parks, tiger reserves, reserve forest, and eco-sensitive areas.
As in the case of Kolkata, the roads are built, widened and maintained oblivious to the ecosystem, human or animal, around it. On the Haridwar-Najibabad road, where the tiger was killed on May 8, three leopards also died earlier, after being hit by vehicles.
A Facebook community “Roads to Nowhere” catalogues deaths of various animals on roads across the country. The species and individual animals may surprise you. The documentation of death includes tigers and leopards, known to be sure-footed and otherwise fearsome. Like all cats, indeed, like the metaphoric “deer in the headlights”, tigers freeze when light falls on them. The death toll also includes elephants, who move surely, slowly, and for long migrations, but are unable to escape a speeding truck or car. It includes birds, usually known to fly rather than walk – struck while flying low, or doing takeoff.
It includes endemic animals like the Western Ghat’s lion-tailed macaque, which spends its life on trees, occasionally coming on the road to cross over to another forest. It includes tiny butterflies which seek salt from roads, incredulously unaware of a huge vehicle charging forward. It includes ectothermic snakes and amphibians, who come on roads seeking life-giving warmth. Basically, the death toll includes all sorts of wild animals.
As more roads come up on our maps and under our cars, and as forests and wild areas shrink, the deaths will only increase. Are we to continue turning a blind eye to what roads do to those who are not using motorised vehicles?
To stress the point, roads are used by many, and they mean different things for different people – or animals. For a cyclist, a road can be a death trap, if it has no speed breakers and motorised vehicles zip down. For a child, a road can mean looking at the patterns it forms on the ground – a mosaic of cobbles and gravel in one part, a pugdundee in another.
For villagers living close to natural ecosystems, markers and milestones are usually a fruiting tree, a holy Banyan, or a big rock. For many, roads are what is around the road rather than on it: a meeting place, a tea-stall, a place to sit.
Roads take us to places. Roads are memories. A road, a lane, a path, a walkway, is an essential part of man’s existence. Roads join people; they also displace them, as in the case with the Mumbai-Delhi Industrial Corridor. Roads take us to tiger reserves, and they also kill tigers. All over the country, roads are being thoughtlessly widened, slashing down acres of forests, thousands of trees, homes and refuge for birds, animals, and shade for people who use these areas.
Like every Indian, I want India to have good roads. No one should live in poverty and deprivation because there is no road to his home or to a hospital. But roads have to be built according to what is around them. They can’t just be planned in conference rooms and executed in isolation.
We must decide, for instance, to have roads with speed breakers in protected areas and sanctuaries. Here, the purpose is wildlife conservation; speed has to be regulated. In our ever-growing country, these reserves are minority land use; they seem invisible while decisions are being taken.
We must decide how many lanes we need in these areas- are two lanes not enough, going through forests? Do we need six? As car traffic goes up, as it inevitably will, shall we require sixteen lanes one day? We love the Fast and Furious, and every car ad shows a racing car. But what of the slow and guileless; that non-motorised vehicle, that troop of walking villagers, that elephant herd, that once-fearsome tiger?
The time has come to stop our obsession with cars, and build roads that don’t just encourage speed and width, but also suitability.
The road to prosperity is a long one. But prosperity also needs thoughtfulness. We don’t need more dead tigers and imperilled pedestrians to show us that roads need to adapt to those who are forced to use them; not just those who choose to use them.
See photos and the entire article.