Sunday, December 12, 2010

The decline of the oceans

The decline of the oceans
The New Indian Express, Dec 11, 2010

Pankaj Sekhsaria

If there is one thing that the milestone international Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro in 1992 is remembered for it, is the forceful statement by the then President of the United States of America, George H W Bush. “The American way of life is non-negotiable,” he had said as nations around the world demanded that the USA contain its runaway consumption in general and that of fossil fuels in particular. Nearly two decades have passed since and promises and commitments notwithstanding, it could well be argued that not much has changed on the ground. In some ways the most powerful nation in the world has managed to bulldoze its way through world opinion even as the global climate crisis has exacerbated and even though climate change has finally came on to the global agenda.

It was at the same 1992 summit that the northern neighbour of the USA proposed an idea that was to be formally accepted more than 15 years later. The concept of the World Oceans Day as proposed by the Government of Canada in Rio was finally approved by the United Nations General Assembly only in December ’08 and June 8 became the day that the world would come together to highlight the importance of the oceans and to commit itself to their conservation.

The Gulf of Mexico disaster

The crisis that the oceans face was highlighted most starkly in April this year (and as World Oceans Day 2010 came and went) when billions of barrels of oil spluttered up from the dark depths of the Gulf of Mexico. The waters of the gulf were covered with endless sheets of oil for weeks choking the rich marshes and causing unprecedented damage to wildlife and commercial fisheries. The problem does not seem to be visible anymore but only time will indicate the long-term damages that may have been caused.

And the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is by no means the only one, even though it has garnered maximum attention and concern. Nearly a 100 significant spills have been documented worldwide since the early 1970s and at least 20 spills (big and small) have been observed in just the last five years. These have occurred at sites as far apart as the Timor Sea off Australia (August 2009), the Yellow Sea off the Korean coast (December 2007) and the waters off the coasts of Alaska in the USA (March 2006). The shoreline of the Ibeno local government area in Nigeria was recently devastated by an oil spill from the companies operating offshore in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the issue garnered huge attention in India following the vast oil spill off the Mumbai coast just a few months ago. The world's appetite for oil and gas seems insatiable and many have argued that such disasters are only waiting to happen.

A rich and diverse ecosystem

The ocean, we often forget is the source of life for millions around the planet. The Global Diversity Outlook 3 (GDO3), report released recently by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has pointed, for instance, that the world’s fisheries provide employment to nearly 200 million people and account for about 16 per cent of the protein consumed worldwide. The report estimates the value of these fisheries to be nearly US$ 82 billion and also notes that about 80 per cent of the stocks for which assessment information is available are over exploited or have been fully exploited.

Coral reefs under stress

The situation with coral reefs is just as alarming. They cover a miniscule portion of the world’s oceans but are estimated to house a quarter of the marine fish species in the world. Researchers have also estimated that nearly 30 million people living along the coast are dependant on reef-based resources as their primary means of food production, income and livelihood. Reports from the around the world — from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to the reefs in the waters off Indonesia and Thailand — indicate that they are being severely impacted. A wide set of reasons ranging from overfishing, soil and chemical run-offs from land to increasing global temperatures are putting these reefs under increasing stress. The Wildlife Conservation Society reported in early October that an initial survey carried out by them had revealed that more than 60 per cent of corals off the northern tip of Sumatra were found bleached due to an unprecedented rise in ocean temperatures. Researchers have suggested that the whole of Southeast Asia is experiencing one of its most deadly coral die-offs — something that could be the worst such event known to science. The CBD report notes similarly that prominent species like the dugong, sea turtles and some sharks among others have experienced significant declines in Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

To say that the health of the world's oceans is not in good shape is to make a statement of the obvious. For long the human species has been taking the ocean for granted and it would be worth reminding ourselves in this, the International Year of Biodiversity, that the ocean can devastate just as ruthlessly as it can give generously. We can continue to take it for granted but the price that we might have to pay might be larger than we can afford.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Is the government’s cheetah programme sound?

Is the government’s cheetah programme sound?

Pankaj Sekhsaria
First Published : 10 Dec 2010 11:13:00 PM IST

Do we want the cheetah back? If the Ministry of Environment and Forest’s (MoEF) ambitious programme for the reintroduction of this animal into the country is anything to go by, the question has already been answered. A recent assessment conducted by the MoEF, the Wildlife Institute of India and the Wildlife Trust of India has identified the Kuno-Palpur and Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuaries in Madhya Pradesh and the Shahgarh Landscape in Jaisalmer for the introduction. An estimated `300 crore will be spent initially on the project and potential sources for the animals are also being explored. It’s quite likely that the cheetahs, if they come, will be either from Namibia or South Africa. The project has the whole-hearted support of the minister in charge, Jairam Ramesh and the ball for the cheetah’s return to India is clearly on the roll now.

There is a more fundamental question, however, that has no clear answers yet — why? Why do we want the cheetah back? The rationale provided has been two-fold. The first this is what Ramesh himself articulated sometime back — to regain a part of the lost glory and history of this country. The magnificent cheetah that was once a living, bounding part of this nation’s reality must be brought back. The other, as has been pointed by some wildlife experts, is that the cheetah, like the tiger, is the apex species of the grassland habitat and it’s presence would, both, indicate and ensure the health of this badly abused ecosystem.

Writing in the recent issue of the wildlife magazine Sanctuary Asia, M K Ranjitsinh, doyen of Indian wildlife conservation and a prime mover of the cheetah reintroduction project has argued that, “The cheetah restoration will be part of a prototype for restoration of original cheetah habitats and their biodiversity, helping to stem the degradation and rapid loss of biodiversity…” He also notes that re-introducing the cheetah will help to save other threatened grassland-scrub-open woodland species such as the caracal, Indian wolf, the desert cat, the Great Indian Bustard and the Lesser Florican.

Prima facie the arguments seem valid, but if looked at carefully, both have serious problems. It is certainly important to realise, for instance, that grassland habitats are extremely productive systems that are both undervalued and abused. They have to be protected and cared for and we have to find ways of doing it. Arguing, however, that we need an introduction from Africa to enable us to set our house in order is akin to putting the cart before the horse. There are far simpler and effective ways to do it if we have the common sense and political will for it. It is also an extremely unfortunate part of our history that this glorious animal was shot into extinction nearly six decades ago. The scarier reality is that many species of plants, birds and animals stand today on the verge of joining the cheetah into that void called extinction.

Flagship programmes — Project Tiger and Project Elephant, for instance, face serious challenges and some might even say that they are floundering. The most recent case of the death of the translocated tiger in Sariska Tiger Reserve is an excellent example of the many challenges that have to be faced. How prudent would it then be to get into something new without ensuring the success of what we already have on hand?

There is another worrisome aspect of the project that has come to light only recently. The introduction of the cheetah is going to be mounted on the back of displacement of people in the areas where the reintroduction is being planned.

Eighty seasonally used human settlements of 5-10 households each will have to be relocated from the Shahgarh landscape and 23 human settlements will have to be moved from the Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary. Three will also be moved from Kuno Palpur in addition to the 23 that were moved a few years ago for the reintroduction of the lion from Gujarat.

Now, anyone who follows wildlife conservation in India knows that this landscape is littered with huge issues of conflict. Millions of people living in and around our protected areas face the sword of displacement or experience constant harassment and denial of basic livelihood resources in the name of wildlife conservation. Not surprisingly there is considerable opposition to wildlife conservation by local communities and there are many such fires burning in different parts of the country. Our job should be to work towards extinguishing these fires, not lighting up one more for an animal we didn’t have the wisdom to save when we had it in our midst. Rather than spending huge amounts of time, human resources, energy and money towards an ‘esoteric’ bringing back of the ‘dead’, the effort has to be concentrated on preventing it happening again — with other species. That would be a far more worthwhile and valuable endeavour. We can’t undo the extinctions we have caused already. Let the fate of cheetah be a grim pointer to that reality.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lost song of the Jarawas

Lost song of the Jarawas

The Jarawa Tribal Reserve Dossier

Edited by

Pankaj Sekhsaria and Vishvajit Pandya
Published by UNESCO and Kalpavriksh

Reviewed by

Madhusree Mukerjee

The Jarawa are among the most threatened people in the world. These hunter- gatherers live in great evergreen rainforests along the western coast of South and Middle Andaman, and number 365 at last count. Genetic studies indicate that they have occupied these islands for tens of millennia, being direct descendants of the first humans to colonize the territory. Throughout history the Jarawa have resisted outsiders— attacking and killing those who would fell trees or hunt and fish within their territory. In the process they have maintained their environment in a pristine condition, so that it overflows with resources such as timber, cane, fish and game that outsiders covet. Therein lies the danger.

British occupation of the Andaman Islands in 1858 led to the extinction by epidemics of most aboriginal tribes on the islands. (Having been isolated since prehistoric times, the islanders have no immunity to killer diseases such as syphilis that are common in the “civilized” world, and easily succumb.) The Jarawa were spared such decimation because of their sustained hostility to outsiders, which limited contact. But a decades- long programme of pacification by the Indian government resulted in their laying down their arms in 1998. The Jarawa immediately started falling prey to diseases such as bronchitis, measles, mumps and malaria, the effects of which have been partially contained by medical intervention. A single new germ line, such as HIV,
could still wipe them out.

The Jarawa Tribal Reserve Dossier, a compilation of documents that describe the history, geography and biology of the Jarawa homeland, is a valuable resource for researchers who seek to familiarize themselves with this obscure but fascinating terrain. Its editors are environmentalist and journalist Pankaj Sekhsaria, who runs a vitally important webgroup on the islands, and anthropologist Vishvajit Pandya.
Both have extensive experience of the Andamans. So do the contributors, especially activist Samir Acharya, who as founder of Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology (SANE) has led the struggle to protect indigenous rights and environment on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Researchers Manish Chandi and Harry Andrews acquired intimate knowledge of the islands’ flora and fauna during their tenure with the
Andaman and Nicobar Environmental Team (ANET), and provide rare insights. Also featured are members of the Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI), who surveyed the food resources of the Jarawa. The appendices are especially useful, containing legal documents and other materials that are hard to find elsewhere. These include a list,
compiled by Chandi, of encounters between settlers and Jarawa that goes all the way back to 1789. Another list, of the Jarawa’s forest camps, was compiled in 2002 and indicates the extent to which their privacy has been penetrated.

The most worrisome development is that ever since pacification the Jarawa reserve has been overrun with poachers. As an essay by Andrews shows, now that the Jarawa are no longer hostile their species-rich jungles, swamps, hills, streams and beaches have attracted hundreds of trespassers from villages around the reserve. The invaders no longer shoot the Jarawa, as they used to, but seek instead to manipulate them by offering gifts, or by inculcating addictions such as to tobacco and alcohol. They come in search of timber, cane, fish, boar, honey, fruit, and sex. The threat to the Jarawa, through introduced disease and loss of their resource base, is immediate and urgent.

To make matters worse, the Andaman politicians make no secret of their determination to throw open the resources of the Jarawa reserve to their constituencies.

The current MP even advocates seizing Jarawa children and raising them on the Indian mainland—actions similar to those for which the Australian government was recently forced to apologize to aboriginals. One can see the MP’s point of view: Once the Jarawa are rendered sedentary and dependent on a welfare system, as the Onge of Little Andaman have largely been, their resources can all the more easily be claimed by grateful voters. No matter that such a seizure would mean cultural genocide of the Jarawa, if not actual genocide. One hopes that the MP will come to realize that if the Jarawa forest is further degraded, its ability to retain and supply fresh water to surrounding settlements will be depleted his vote bank will then have to pack up and depart.

More than a decade of activism to defend the Jarawa, and to educate the Andaman’s settler population as to the vital role these hunter-gatherers play in maintaining the island ecology has, however, resulted at best in stalemate. The Andaman administration has failed to implement court orders regarding the protection of Jarawa territory: in particular, it has ignored a 2002 Supreme Court order closing the parts of the Andaman
Trunk Road (ATR) that run through the Jarawa reserve. As a result, the administration’s laudable new effort to create a buffer zone around the reserve has run up against complaints of inconsistency.
Predictably, the MP has threatened a bandh against the measure he has also called for further defying the Supreme Court by constructing a railway line alongside the ATR. The dossier provides an insightful survey of the past, and contains necessary information for pointing the way to the future, if the Jarawa are to have any. It would have been even more useful, however, had it contained a description, either by
Sekhsaria or Acharya, of the various efforts to protect the Jarawa, through appeals to the public, the courts, and the National Advisory Commission—and an analysis of why these endeavours have faltered. To be sure, no one had expected that the administration would ignore the Supreme Court, and the fact that it continues to do so is symptomatic of the collapse of governance across India.

Those rare battles that adivasis have won against dispossession, such as the triumph of the Dongria Kondh in Orissa, suggest that a groundswell of protest, properly publicized, can on occasion gain indigenous peoples their rights. But the Jarawa are not being given a chance to speak on their future nor, as the MP’s stand indicates, are their territorial or other rights getting much support from the mainstream population of the Andaman Islands.

As if that were not enough, a long-standing debate over whether the Jarawa should be “civilized” or not continues to rage— despite the acceptance, throughout the world, of the principle of self-determination. It is for the Jarawa alone to decide whether or not, and at what pace, to integrate.

Becoming integrated, or “civilized,” will inevitably lead to sedenterization of these nomadic people—with its attendant social and medical problems, such as depression and alcoholism—and must not be forced on them by robbing them of their resources.

In this context, it would have been useful to have the United Nations declarations on indigenous rights, which calls specifically for the protection of Jarawa territory, in the appendix. A review of how similarly fraught situations are being dealt with on other continents (perhaps by anthropologist Sita Venkateswar) would have been instructive. Creative solutions have been developed for informing semi-isolated peoples about the outside world without disrupting their culture, and these can show the way for empowering the Jarawa.

Such omissions do not, however, detract from the usefulness of this compendium, which is an essential resource for anyone who seeks to understand the plight of the Jarawa and appreciate the diversity and uniqueness of the environment they have preserved, often at the cost of their lives.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Leopards in my backyard

Leopards in my backyard
by Pankaj Sekhsaria
Issue: Dec 15, 2010

India is the only country where high densities of people and livestock share space with carnivores
Recent research on leopard behaviour shows capturing the problem animals and releasing them elsewhere only shifts the locale of the people-animal conflict. At first glance Akole taluka in Ahmednagar district seems like any other taluka in western Maharashtra’s sugarcane belt. It has densely populated and chaotic settlements, virtually no forest cover and a landscape that is dominated by a mosaic of agricultural fields.

It seems unlikely, even unexpected, yet in Akole people, their dogs and cattle live cheek-by-jowl with large numbers of leopards, one of the biggest wild carnivores. Akole seems like a place for a serious human-wildlife conflict but this is where the taluka throws up another surprise.

Most discussions on the humanwildlife conflict are about carnivores straying because of loss of their natural habitat—most often considered to be forests. The discussions emphasise the need to separate humans and wildlife populations to prevent aggravation of the conflict. An ongoing research project led by Vidya Athreya of Project Waghoba ( in Akole’s farmlands challenges these widely held beliefs.

A two-month camera-trapping exercise last year by Athreya photographed 14 different leopards in about 200 sq km. This included five adult males, five adult females and four cubs, indicating a population that was breeding actively. Further analysis revealed a leopard density of 12 adults in 100 sq km living among human densities of nearly 200 people per sq km—a human dominated area that significantly has no forest cover.

Clearly, the leopards of Akole have not strayed into these farmlands. They, in fact, have been living here for generations and significantly there have been no reports of attacks on people in nearly a decade. People are undoubtedly worried about safety, yet there were no strident calls for killing the leopards or for removing them from the area.

Many questions arise. Why are there so many leopards in Akole? What led to a massive conflict in nearby Junnar a few years ago while there has been none in Akole? What is the assurance there won’t be a problem in Akole too? While the search for the pieces of the jigsaw is on, some answers are available.

The leopard is one of the most versatile and adaptable creatures and has been known, historically, to live on the fringes of human habitations. Akole could be an example. An important dimension, however, is the change in land use across this belt in the past three decades.

Improved irrigation facilities have significantly increased the spread of sugarcane and this in turn has benefited the leopard by providing good breeding and hiding ground. With no competition and easy prey available in the form of stray dogs, cattle, pigs and chicken among others, it is not surprising that the leopard established itself across large parts of Akole taluka.

The people-animal conflict is more complex and protracted. Its intensity was best highlighted when it peaked in neighbouring Junnar in 2003. Leopards killed nearly 50 people in two years and over a 100 leopards were captured for permanent incarceration in that period.

Investigation, by another team led by Athreya cast doubt on the then policy of capturing leopards in a problem area and releasing them elsewhere and said it was at the root of the conflict.

This is best illustrated by developments reported in late 2003 from the Yawal Wildlife Sanctuary spread over 170-odd sq km in Jalgaon district of Maharashtra. These forests have a rich diversity of wildlife that includes large carnivores like leopards. Though the forests of Yawal have been dotted with human settlements for a long time, there had been no instances of conflict with leopards.

This suddenly changed when six leopard attacks were reported for the first time in the last two months of 2003 in villages that had not seen any attacks till then. The attacks stopped only when trap cages were put there and two leopards caught. These were the same animals that had only a few months earlier terrorised people in the agriculturedominated landscape of Junnar.

Labelled straying animals, the leopards were trapped and as per the management policy moved 400 km to the forests of Yawal, where they were released back into the wild. The identity of the leopards, the explanation of their presence and the answer to the question of the attacks lay in a small electronic tag that was inserted at the base of the tail of these animals.

They had been electronically tagged before release as part of a pioneering research project by the Maharashtra Forest Department and assisted by Athreya and veterinarian Aniruddh Belsare. The tag, the size of a grain, can be read like a bar-code and it was hoped that tagging would help track the problem animals.

Athreya and Belsare could now show that translocation of the problem leopards was no solution; it lay at the root of the problem. The translocation of the animal from the area of conflict had in fact caused the conflict to move to new areas. The animals had carried the conflict with them.

One of the problem animals was captured 90 km from its site of release in the direction of Junnar, the town from where it had been brought. Big carnivores have acute homing tendency that draws them back to their original territory. Recent evidence of this has come from Athreya’s latest research work involving satellite tracking of leopards in western Maharashtra. The research team catalogued a 120-km expedition of an adult male leopard from the hinterland to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

The leopard that was trapped in a well in Alephata along the Pune-Nashik highway was rescued, fitted with a satellite collar and released in the nearby forests of Malshej Ghat. The animal completed its remarkable journey in about 23 days—passing through agricultural land, densely populated areas, across roads, rail tracks, close to Kasara station, and swimming across the Vasai Creek. There is no evidence, but it can be conjectured that the animal was originally from forests in Mumbai and could be one of the many that have often been captured here and released elsewhere.

These stories throw up important questions about the biology and behaviour of large carnivores and the very controversial and emotional subject of human-wildlife conflict. “It is important to note,” said Athreya, “that India is the only country in the world where high densities of people (more than 300 per sq km) and the highest livestock density in the world share their spaces with carnivores. Except the cheetah we have still retained all (58 species, 14 of them heavier than 10 kg which can be potentially dangerous to humans).

Total elimination was never part of our culture. This is an ethic that can make conservation work easy, but the conservation community has to start working with these people.” Another important dimension, she added, is that conservation in India is viewed entirely through the lens of protected areas. “We have no clue that so much wildlife exists outside these areas and management decisions are generally inappropriate for areas that are often not even forests.”

There is now the realisation, for instance, that translocation, which for long was considered a simple and straightforward answer, in fact lay at the root of the problem it sought to solve.

The information and insights provided by Akole once again underline the importance of good science and rigorous research because the answers we find are only as good as the questions we ask. We might not know all the causes that could push the Akole situation into a conflict, but we can now say with confidence that we know a critical few.

Pankaj Sekhsaria edits the Protected Area Update, a bi-monthly newsletter on wildlife and protected areas

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Wildlife, the last priority

Wildlife, the last priority

Pankaj Sekhsaria
First Published : 27 Nov 2010 09:35:00 AM IST,-the-last-priority/225667.html

Wildlife sanctuaries and national parks (protected areas) have for many years been at the centre of India’s official efforts at protecting the country’s wilderness, wildlife and biological diversity. While there have been many successes, questions are now being asked if the exclusionary model of conservation that alienates local communities will be sustainable in the long run. There have been many instances of strong opposition by these local communities, to either the creation of protected areas or their expansion, for fear of eviction and a strict restriction on their rights that inevitably follows. The general impression is that governments and forest departments are always keen on expanding the protected area (PA) network and communities or those who speak on their behalf are the ones opposing these moves.

The picture on the ground, however, is a more complex one as illustrated by two very interesting recent cases — one from Uttarakhand, and another from Maharashtra. In both these cases it is the state machinery that is against the expansion (or creation) of protected areas for reasons that have nothing to do with interests of wildlife or of the local communities. An interesting parallel was seen more than a decade ago when the Himachal Pradesh Government denotified about 10 sq km of the Great Himalayan National Park on the pretext that local communities were being negatively impacted by the national park. The real reason was that the Parbati Hydel Project had been held up and the only way to get it through was to have the river valley excluded from within the boundaries of the PA.

Now, in Uttarakhand, the state government has opposed the recommendation of the Supreme Court appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC) for the expansion of the Askot Wildlife Sanctuary for a similar reason. The CEC had recommended that the boundary of the sanctuary be re-drawn to exclude the 111 villages presently located inside. It also suggested that the area of the sanctuary which is 600 sq kms presently be increased to 2,200 sq kms. This, the state government has opposed on the grounds that the move will restrict their capacity to tap the high hydro-electric potential of the area.

Askot Wildlife Sanctuary, Pic: E Theophilus

Bhagirathi Valley, Pic: E Theophilus

There are already 14 hydro-electric projects proposed within the existing sanctuary area and many more in the entire region. Local communities here have also been opposing the protected area, but then, they (at least some of them) have also vehemently opposed the spree of dam building that the region is likely to see. The recent cancellation of the Loharinag Pala Hydel Project and the decision to declare the Gomukh-Uttarakashi stretch of the River Bhagirathi as an eco-sensitive zone is just one outcome of this.

In Maharashtra, similarly, the long pending notification of the Mansinghdeo Wildlife Sanctuary is being held up because part of the land belongs to the Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra. The Corporation which has logged these forests for timber has in the past opposed handing over the land for inclusion in the sanctuary and the decade old proposal continues to languish. In 2004, it had even moved an application before the High Court, arguing that it would lose nearly Rs 1,400 crores if the ban on timber logging was implemented in the 10 km radius of PAs, as suggested. The state has now suggested the reduction of the proposed 182 sq km to 143 sq km by leaving out the Mansinghdeo block after which the sanctuary was to be named. Experts have noted that the areas to be left out have some of the best forests and form an important corridor connecting the Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary and the tiger reserves of Tadoba, Melghat and Pench.

Spotted deer in Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve. Pic: Pankaj Sekhsaria

The situation has been such that Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh had himself written to then Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, pressing for the notitification of the sanctuary.

These are situations we have encountered repeatedly over the years, with only minor variations in the script. A number of projects including those of mining, dam construction, laying of roads and railway lines and industrial activities have repeatedly been allowed by denotifying areas protected for wildlife. It is clear that in the present scheme of wildlife conservation and protected areas, local communities are the most dispensable entities. And in the present dominant paradigm of ‘development’ and primacy to commercial interests it is protected areas, wildlife and local people that are all together in being at the bottom of the list of priorities, if they find a place in that list at all.

There are different sets of people opposing wildlife conservation and protected areas for various reasons. It’s important to note that generally it is one set that has its way.

— The writer is an environmental researcher, writer and photographer.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dear Friends,
Given below is the list of contents and the edit of the new issue of the Protected Area Update (Vol XVI, No. 6, December 2010). If you would like to receive the entire newsletter in its soft copy format, please write to me at

Pankaj Sekhsaria
Editor, Protected Area Update
C/o Kalpavriksh

News and Information from protected areas in India and South Asia
Vol. XVI No. 6
December 2010 (No. 88)

FRA and wildlife conservation: The ‘critical’ question
- Locals help to restore Kaziranga NP corridors
- Centre releases Rs. 573 lakh for Kaziranga, Manas and Nameri TRs
- India, Bhutan to jointly monitor Manas tigers
- ONGC to support swamp deer conservation in Kaziranga NP
- Tiger conservation education program in schools adjoining PAs
- Ecodevelopment committees formed in 11 villages bordering the Orang NP
- Arms training for Orang NP staff

- Gir attracts 33000 visitors, earns Rs. 42 lakh during Diwali

- Dalma WLS to expand by over 1500 ha

- Plea to allow removal of already mined ore in Kudremukh

- Bandhavgarh TR to get gaur from Kanha

- HC asks for relocation of villages from Tadoba Andhari TR within a year
- High Court stays construction of tourist resorts and installation of windmills in Koyna WLS
- 49 mining leases approved in Sindhudurg; corridor connecting Koyna, Radhanagari WLSs and Anshi-Dandeli TR to be impacted

- 227 families to be evicted from Dampa TR

- Coastal fishing ban for seven months
- Concerns over proposed thermal power plant proximity to Chandaka WLS
- Maoists blow up forest buildings inside Sunabeda Wildlife Sanctuary

- Rs. 58 crore to fence wildlife sanctuaries

- Rajasthan Tourism proposes train-safari through Todgarh Raoli WLS
- Illegal mining threatens Sariska again

- Gangtok Himalayan Zoological Park to be upgraded

- Minister suggests inclusion of Segur plateau in buffer zone of the Mudumalai TR

- Rs. Four crore for tourism development and promotion in Buxa TR
- No river-linking project through Buxa TR

- India, Norway to collaborate for protecting biodiversity
- National Board for Wildlife reconstituted
- Save Western Ghats meet in Moodubidri in January 2011
- CEE to implement gibbon conservation programme in five North-Eastern states
- 2010 TOFT Wildlife Tourism Awards
- CEE to initiate a two-year education program for river dolphin conservation
- Former SC judge, LS Panta to chair National Green Tribunal
- Task force for Dugong conservation

- Stricter wildlife law proposed in Bangladesh

- India elected secretary in Interpol’s Wildlife Crime Working Group
- UN conference for protection of dugongs

- Openings for research with the Wildlife Research and Conservation Society
- The WCS Research Fellowship Program
- Openings at the Nature Conservation Foundation

- First Indian Biodiversity Congress

SPECIAL SECTION: Forest Rights Act, Protected Areas and Wildlife Conservation

- MoTA, MoEF clarify that protected areas are not outside FRA ambit

- Villagers oppose CWH status for Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary

- Soligas oppose tiger reserve status for BRT Wildlife Sanctuary

- Forest Rights Act being violated in Simlipal Tiger Reserve
ELEPHANTS IN THE NEWS: August – November 2010

Wildlife Tourism: A Valuable Tool for Conservation



Ever since the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (FRA for short) was notified, large sections of the wildlife conservation community have vehemently opposed it. The vociferous opposition that had started much before the final notification is seen even today. Journalists, editors and a section of wildlifers continue to berate and demonise the FRA in any and all possible fora unmindful of developments on the ground.
A historical battle to protect forests, water security, and a threatened indigenous community in the Niyamgiri hills of Orissa has just been won on the back of the FRA and yet, the argument continues to go out that this law will destroy the last of India’s remaining forests and wildlife. Neither have other organizations who had petitioned the Supreme Court and a number of High Courts against the FRA thought it right to re-negotiate their positions. There have been no shades of grey in these articulations, not even a black and white; there is just one lens through which this issue is being seen.
The Protected Area Update (Vol. XII, No. 4) had argued even before the law was enacted that a balance was needed in the discussions and that it was certainly not the disaster it was made out to be. No law can be perfect. There will always be shortcomings and challenges, but it is baffling why the narratives don’t change even when a lot around the narrative does. Why not give credit where it is due? Why continue to discredit even when there is evidence to the contrary?
Take the case of the ‘critical’ – the critical tiger habitat (CTH) and the critical wildlife habitat (CWH) – the former under the Wildlife Protection Act (WLPA) and the latter under the FRA. There is a huge push to get the ‘critical’ declarations done because then people can be relocated in the presumed interests of wildlife. What is being forgotten in this urgency is that there is due process of law to be followed. Certain conditions have to be met and the local communities have to consent fully. The Ministries of both, Tribal Affairs and Environment and Forests have made it clear that protected areas are not outside the ambit of the FRA and yet, as a number of reports in this issue of the PA Update – from the Dampa Tiger Reserve (TR) in Mizoram and the Simlipal TR in Orissa to the Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple and Cotigao Sanctuaries in the Western Ghats – point out, it is evident that the provisions of the law are not being followed.
There is enough other evidence to show at the same time that the WLPA is in many situations unable to protect the PAs, leave alone wildlife outside. Illustrations abound – denotification for mines, dams, and infrastructure projects, continued illegal mining in a number of PAs and continued poaching in even the best protected of parks.
The future for forests and wildlife is certainly not rosy; certainly not in this present paradigm of development where the stakes and vested interests are disproportionately large and too deeply embedded in the system. The terms of the game are not amenable to easy change, but if one looks at the possibilities that the FRA offers there might just be the faint outline of a game changer on the horizon.
It happened in Niyamgiri; it is happening in the continued opposition to land acquisition for the Pohang Steel Company (POSCO) also in Orissa and it happening in a number of places were communities are using the FRA to protect their forests and livelihood resources and keeping out the dams and the quarrying and the logging (see earlier issues of the PA Update). The critical question is whether we are willing to see this and give it even an outside chance.

Protected Area Update
Vol. XVI, No. 6, December 2010 (No. 88)
Editor: Pankaj Sekhsaria
Editorial Assistance: Reshma Jathar
Illustrations: Madhuvanti Anantharajan

Produced by:
The Documentation and Outreach Centre, Kalpavriksh

Ideas, comments, news and information may please be sent to the editorial address:

Apartment 5, Shri Dutta Krupa, 908 Deccan Gymkhana, Pune 411004, Maharashtra, India.
Tel/Fax: 020 – 25654239.
Publication of the PA Update has been supported by
- Foundation for Ecological Security (FES)
- Duleep Matthai Nature Conservation Trust
- Greenpeace India
- Association for India’s Development
- Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
- Indian Bird Conservation Network
Information has been sourced from different newspapers and the following websites

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Interview by Pankaj Sekhsaria


Prof Wiebe E Bijker is perhaps best known for the formulation of the theory of the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) and his first book, 'Of Bicycles, Bakelites and Bulbs — Toward a theory of Sociotechnical change'. He has been president of the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) and executive committee member of the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT). He received the 2006 John Desmond Bernal Prize for his distinguished contribution to the field of science and technology studies. He is one of the editors for the Inside Technology book series published by the MIT Press, Massachusetts, and is presently Professor of Technology and Society at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. He gave one of the keynote addresses at the seminar ‘Shifting Perimeters: Social and Ethical Implications on Human Genome Research’ organised by the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS) and the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) in Bangalore this week.

In this interview, he talks about his latest book, The Paradox of Scientific Authority, his views on the social construction of science and technology and his growing interest in and engagement with India.

Q) Let’s start from the most recent — The Paradox of Scientific Authority — The Role of Scientific Advice in Democracies — your latest book written jointly with Roland Bal and Ruud Hendriks. What is this paradox of scientific authority?
A) We presently live in highly developed societies, technological cultures, that cannot exist without science and technology. At the same time we see in Europe and the United States of America that this authority of scientists and engineers is eroding. It is radically different from the situation 20-30 years ago. We are seeing this around issues related to nuclear power, genetic engineering and, most recently, in the controversy over the report of the Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change. Now, that is the paradox that we talk about. How is it possible that we live in a world that is so scientific and technological, and yet at the same time we don’t trust the scientists and the engineers anymore?

Q) What then explains this paradox? What has changed in the last 30 years that this authority has come under question?
A) I think there is an increasing trend of questioning of authority — more positively framed, a broader democratisation.

Q) Of society?
A) That’s right. Authorities and institutions aren’t trusted anymore just because they have some fancy name or because they are government-supported. In the 1970s and 1980s, a lot of work in the field that I am working in, science technology and society (STS) studies, was aimed at showing the limitations of scientific knowledge — to allow for a more critical and democratic discussion of issues in which science and technology play a role. There was a lot of effort to show the socially constructed nature of scientific knowledge; that scientific knowledge isn’t dictated by nature. Nature isn’t holding the hand of scientists and writing the facts for them. No. It is scientists who design experiments, who interpret data, who discuss the interpretations of these experiments and their results. There is all this human work that goes into creating scientific facts, that then also opens them up for critical debate.

Q) How do you think The Paradox… is relevant to other situations, say to a country like India?
A) One way of resolving the paradox, we suggest, is to create pockets of scientific advice that function as a kind of bridge between the scientific community and arenas of debate and policy-making — institutions like the Health Council of the Netherlands that we discuss in our book and the Academy of Sciences in the USA. This may be surprisingly relevant in India, even though until recently scientists and engineers in India seemed to have an unquestioned, high status.
Take the Bt Brinjal case. It clearly shows a very deep rift in society about this one example of modern science and technology. This is typically the situation where a high quality independent scientific body could have played an important role and I was happy to hear that the Indian Academies of Science were asked for advice. But it is clear that they failed in what was, I think, a golden opportunity to play the kind of important advisory role in democracy that we describe in this book. I think that this failure has not only damaged the Indian debate on Bt Brinjal, but also the general appreciation of scientific authority in India.

Q) Can you also tell us a little more of your increased engagement with India? How did it come about and what are your present research interests?
A) I first came to India about six years ago on the invitation of Dr Shambu Prasad of the Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar, to visit some research institutes that were working at the crossroads of technology and society. I met Indian scientists and also Indian NGOs that work on science and technology related issues. Dastkar Andhra, for example, working with handloom weaving cooperatives, trying to innovate technology, design, marketing and the social infrastructure to help the weavers build up new stable livelihoods. I also met people from the Centre for World Solidarity (CWS), the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), and the Central University in Hyderabad. I was fascinated by the work going on in India — what I would call ‘science technology and society studies (STS)’ work, though they didn’t use that label themselves. I realised that there is a lot that we in Europe can learn from India about the larger democratic questions of science and technology in and for society. That is what got me going.

Q) And what have been the specific areas that you’ve been working on in India?
A) I have been supervising three European students who have been working on their PhDs in India. One has worked intensely with CSA and studied their efforts to upscale non-pesticide crop management. Another has been studying tuberculosis in India and the most recent is presently studying democratic governance of water resource management in south India.

Q) And the manifesto…
A) Yes, we are now in the final stages of a larger European Union-funded project that works on the triangle of India, Europe and Africa. We want to find out how countries can take into their own hands the development of their science and technology, rather than just following, say, the US or world trends. In India we worked with a broad set of, both, academics and more NGO-related Indian researchers. In a workshop held two years ago in the Adivasi Academy, Tejgadh in Gujarat, we formulated the first draft of the manifesto. The manifesto takes as its central agenda the principles of justice, sustainability and plurality of knowledge. It very explicitly formulates that there are different kinds of knowledge and that they all have their own merit; that they develop in parallel and that scientific knowledge is just one of them though with its own importance and merit. We are now re-writing it by including experiences from concrete case studies on sustainable agriculture, on water management, on reconstructing the built environment after the tsunami, and on medical care. We’ll be presenting it in 2011 and hopefully it will spur further discussions and debate.

Q) And your future plans for India?
A) I hope to keep working myself and through my students. Hopefully, we’ll also have a separate India Inside Technology series co-published by the MIT press and a local publisher to bring to India some of the published work in science, technology and society studies.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

CONSERVATION AT THE CROSSROADS- Beyond cliches and the obvious

Sunday, November 14, 2010 8:27 PM IST

'CONSERVATION AT THE CROSSROADS' by Dr. Ghazala Shahabuddin.
Review by Pankaj Sekhsaria

Beyond cliches and the obvious

Pankaj Sekhsaria

Wildlife conservation in India is an extremely complex and intricate matter, related as it is to the fate of thousands of species of plants and animals and also the millions of humans who live in or are dependant on landscapes that are critical for conservation. The matrix is a complex one and to say that conservation in a rapidly changing India is at a crossroads is as much a cliché as a statement of the obvious.

'Conservation at the Crossroads' by Dr Ghazala Shahabuddin manages to go beyond both, the clichés and the obvious, in a contemporary account of conservation that is timely and well-informed. Spread over eight chapters, the book explores the different paradigms that either exist, are being attempted or might indeed be possible. The central debate in conversation in India, as it has been all over the world, is over the exclusionary paradigm — keeping out people from areas where wildlife should rule the roost. Various arguments have been put forth in favour and against this over the years and Shahabuddin shows that while this is crucial, it is not the only debate that we need to have.

Having said that and in spite of making a claim to the contrary, the book does end up treating strict conservation in protected areas (wildlife sanctuaries and national parks) and initiatives of community conservation asymmetrically. Where protected areas (PAs) are concerned, the problems outlined are located entirely in the broad domain of ‘management’ (lack of resources, personnel, training etc). In dealing with communities that are conserving on their own account, meanwhile, a question mark hangs on the value of the paradigm itself in achieving conservation. Much larger trust and belief is placed in the PA system. Much tougher questions are being asked of the community conservation paradigm.

It is well known, for instance, that ‘good’ forest and wildlife areas remain outside PA boundaries for reasons that have nothing to do with either wildlife, forests or science. The contradiction is an obvious one then, when we show faith in the protected areas system to ‘scientifically’ protect biodiversity when the basis for the creation of the system itself can be questioned on the grounds of its scientific validity.

The other thing I started to see towards the end the book is the almost complete absence of the larger political, social and economic context of the present within which conservation has to be located. Shahabuddin does talk of developmental threats (dams, mines, infrastructure projects), but these are discussed more as stand-alone projects. The narrative emerges uninformed by the drives, moves and trajectories of the larger context.

What value is there to communities conserving or even PA boundaries being ‘sanitised’ when one big project tomorrow can upset it all, riding roughshod over or perhaps aided by the legal, administrative and economic systems we are presently part of?

The last chapter ‘Reinventing Conservation: Creating Space for Nature’ too was a little disappointing because the space had been created in the preceding chapters for solutions that could have been much bolder. Disproportionate emphasis, for instance, has been placed on tourism as a means to ensure conservation and livelihood security for the locals and the notion of the buffer zone too is also not examined critically when it remains only a concept on the ground.

If the account so far sounds like only a string of complaints, it is because I have concentrated on only certain parts of what is, overall, a delightful read. The first chapter on the Sariska Tiger Reserve, for instance, is very good for the details provided of the author’s own field work and her personal interest and experience. It’s an account that is rooted in strong empirical work and builds a credibility that is sustained through to the very end.

The best chapter of the book is the third one — ‘The endangered tribe of the wildlife biologist’ — not surprising considering that Shahabuddin’s training is that of a conservation biologist. This is an account that wildlife biologists and scientists will welcome with open arms. Not only is the title laced with huge irony, the outlining of the problem and the suggested solutions are insightful and succinct. It gave me, for the first time, an understanding of the nature of the problem of wildlife science in India and why it is a problem in the first place.

Conservation at the Crossroads is an excellent piece of scholarship — one that I found insightful and useful and one I would strongly recommend. Permanent Black and the New India Foundation need to be congratulated for bringing it out and hopefully there will be many more.

— Pankaj Sekhsaria is an environment writer, researcher and photographer. He edits the ‘Protected Area Update’ a bimonthly newsletter on wildlife produced by the environmental action group, Kalpavriksh

Saturday, November 6, 2010

OLD GROWTH - Longwood Shola


A walk in the Nilgiris' enchanting—and still surviving—Longwood Shola reserve forest
Pankaj Sekhsaria

Don’t let its size fool you. Longwood Shola, the little forest located in the Kotagiri taluk of Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiris district, is a very big deal. For one, it is an unexpected gem—a sparkling island of a forest in a sea of villages, tea estates and plantations of exotic trees. Longwood is also one of the last remnants of the primeval forests that once clothed the Nilgiris. It has taken zealous guarding and action by conservationists and locals to keep even these 100-odd hectares safe.

I had barely entered Longwood Shola, on a visit sometime in April last year, that its treasures tumbled out one after the other. Up in the canopy to my left, a rust-and-cream Malabar giant squirrel scurried restlessly on a branch, the colour of its fur glowing in the morning sun. If you’ve seen this resident of the forest canopy, you’ll know just what I mean when I say ‘my jaw dropped’ and I ‘stood stunned’. Then suddenly, really suddenly, the creature froze. It was looking straight at me, the intruder. The squirrel turned around in a flash and, in three nimble leaps, managed to disappear completely in the foliage above.

Even as I was scanning the canopy for another glimpse, something flew past me and across to the bushes on my right. It flitted around for a while and then came right up. Here was another stunner: a little brown bird with striking white eyebrows, just a few feet from me. Its eyebrows seemed to form an inquiring frown, no doubt asking me, “Why are you looking at me like that, mister?” Senthil had noticed my stupefaction. “Quickly, Pankaj,” he said. “This is a great chance, take your picture.” Before I could recover enough to act on that, though, the endemic Nilgiri laughing thrush decided it had made its point and was gone.

K. Senthil Prasad, incidentally, is the best walking companion one could have in the Longwood Shola. He is part of the Kotagiri Wildlife and Environment Association (KWEA) and the Keystone Foundation, has lived his entire life here and continues to work to protect Longwood Shola. And herein lies an important story.

The Longwood Shola reserve forest is not a big one by any standards; but it could quite easily have ceased to exist, just like the forests that once surrounded it. Over the years, the growing villages and settlements in the region have been pressuring the forest for fuel-wood and other resources. Local initiatives to protect Longwood started in the early 1980s. They took a more permanent form in May 1998, with the Forest Department setting up the Longwood Shola Watchdog Committee (LSWC) in collaboration with a group of concerned and committed local people (Senthil was one of them).

The LSWC took up a number of activities, including patrolling to keep away woodcutters, removing exotic plants that were threatening the local flora and clean-ups to remove garbage left behind by picnickers and visitors. Seminars were held for local schools and colleges and, importantly, LSWC began conversations with the villagers living around the forest. It helped that Longwood Shola is the prime and perennial source of water for nearly 15 villages located downstream and, over time, local communities became partners in protecting their forest.

It worked well for the locals—human and wildlife alike—and the conservation work has begun to be noticed. Longwood Shola was recently included in the Directory of Community Conserved Areas published by the NGO Kalpavriksh, and it has been recognised as an ‘Important Bird Area’ by BirdLife International for the conservation of the Nilgiri laughing thrush, the white-bellied shortwing and the Nilgiri wood pigeon. Ten of the 16 birds that are endemic to the Western Ghats have also been recorded in this small forest. It is also home to a large number of other fauna, including gaur, the occasional leopard, barking deer, wild boar, porcupine, black-napped hare and, of course, the Malabar giant squirrel.

In more good news, of late, the Nilgiris itself has become the focus of several local and regional conservation attempts. The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, for one, has set up a large research and action initiative for the Western Ghats, of which the Nilgiris are a part. For another, a new Nilgiri Natural History Society has been formed with the Keystone Foundation in the lead. And the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has set up an expert panel on the Western Ghats to “assist in the preservation, conservation and rejuvenation of this environmentally sensitive and ecologically significant region”. Longwood Shola is certainly a sweet little success story.

So it is the good people of the Nilgiris that I must thank for the fact that, just minutes into my stroll around the forest, I had already seen two endemics. With the thrush having done its disappearing act, we walked on a little before we were distracted by a murder of jungle crows creating a racket. We soon found out why—sitting on the other side of a small stream was a huge brown wood owl and the crows were harassing it. This fellow sat around for a while even after spotting us, and this gave me an opportunity to finally put my camera to some use. But then the crows started to get really aggressive and the owl took off, with the crows still in pursuit.

The wonderful thing about Longwood is just how walker-friendly it is. A comfortable path meanders through the forest, making it an enjoyable walk. Senthil led me past a biggish wetland, over a stream and up a gentle slope, stopping along the way to peer into the forest or strain upwards to catch the action in the canopy. At least on the morning I went, the squirrels seemed to be the most active residents. I must have seen at least half a dozen of them; the rudraskha tree (known locally as bikkimaram) was fruiting and that’s where these guys were mainly concentrated. The squirrels seemed to favour the seeds, for the floor under the trees was littered with fruit scrapings left behind after the seed-extraction.

That day, it seemed, my luck just wouldn’t run out. “Gaur,” said Senthil, as he pointed into the distance, “Be careful”. There were two there—a young calf and a huge adult that must have been the mother. The little one jumped away as soon as it saw us, but the mother stood regal and magnificent and stared as us for a while. She finally turned nonchalantly and sauntered off behind her young one.

Finally, we walked down a slope and across another small stream that had a magnificent tree fern growing on its bank, and we were back near the point we started from. The squirrel I had seen first was back in its place (I’m quite sure it’s the same one), but the owl was nowhere to be seen. The crows were still running amok. I had spent just over two hours in the forest and been privy to the tiniest part of its secrets, but that’s all it took for Longwood Shola to bewitch me.

For pictures see

Toxic Assets or Toxics as Assets

Toxic Assets or Toxics as Assets
by Pankaj Sekhsaria

The New Indian Express, 21st Oct. 2010

If there is one term that defines the tailspin the world economy experienced recently, it is ‘toxic assets’. The phenomenon has been hugely analysed and debated but little has been discussed on the coinage of the term itself. Who used it first? What was its purpose? Has it had any particular implications? Would the responses to the crisis have been different if toxic assets were called something else, say ‘legacy assets’?

It is believed that the term toxic assets was coined and popularised by the founder of Countrywide Financial, Angelo Mozilo, who used ‘toxic’ to describe certain mortgage products in early 2006: “(The 100% loan-to-value subprime loan is) the most dangerous product in existence and there can be nothing more toxic...” he is recorded as having said in an e-mail he sent in March 2006.

What is particularly intriguing here is the crossing over of ‘toxic’, from its primary usage in the environmental context into the realm of finance. This offers, both, an interesting metaphor on the one hand and an important commentary on the other.

It doesn’t need much to see the contradiction in putting toxic and assets together; it’s the ultimate oxymoron. If it’s an asset, it is positive and welcome. If it’s toxic it is best avoided, even better disposed. What does their juxtaposition in ‘toxic assets’, then imply? Is it a dichotomy of the real world or can it be dismissed merely as a play of words?

Language does not just modulate the experience of the real world, it often becomes the experience itself. It is language that we use again to change the experience, like when a new term ‘legacy assets’ was created for the purpose. Most readers are likely to have missed it earlier in this essay because it does not have the power, the influence or the history of ‘toxic assets’. ‘Legacy assets’ or ‘legacy loans’ as they are also called, were in fact, a re-branding exercise attempted by the US Treasury in March of 2009 to make more palatable and sellable what were now widely known as ‘toxic assets’. The term, however, is so firmly embedded in public memory that it has been impossible to dislodge.

‘Toxic assets’ has made the boundary between financial and environmental risks unexpectedly and visibly porous. The same was done a while ago in the climate change debate as well — in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a financial instrument that offers a solution to the climate crisis by transacting in ‘carbon credits’. CDM is a politically sensitive issue; economically an uncertain one and has been seen, empirically, as rather unsuccessful so far: trade in carbon is increasing but there seems to be no commensurate reduction in carbon emissions.

The question then is this: Was the creation of trading in carbon, implicitly, an effort to ‘repackage’ a certain toxicity as an asset. That the packaging has been widely successful is evident in the growing interest in the idea. A number of developing countries including India have bought into it fully and have now created multiple scenarios of economic revenues through different forms of carbon trading.

That ‘waste is a misplaced resource’ is a commonly accepted principle. It has been shown that excretions from one system, particularly in nature, are productively used in another. For this to happen, however, the waste needs to be thrown completely out of the system first; inside it becomes toxic and extremely dangerous. This also assumes that there are clear boundaries between systems and that waste moves across these boundaries.

While carbon is an integral part of the system of the Earth, its excessive accumulation is the toxicity that threatens. This toxicity is now being promoted as an asset for a transaction that will now happen before its removal from within the system.

The irony is that the climate change crisis is built on the notion of the Earth as a single, unified entity: it doesn’t matter where and when the emissions happen or who is responsible because the consequences are to be faced by all. The problem this raises for carbon trading is evident. If the Earth is indeed one, there is no ‘other backyard’ to put the waste (carbon) into; it’s the reverse of the ‘toxics assets’ case. The argument that carbon trading will work is, then, in direct opposition to the notion that there is one Earth because carbon emissions can’t be toxic and an asset at the same time!

The options that this leaves us with are two: that the Earth is not one entity or that climate change is not a problem that we should be worrying about. Neither might be acceptable, but then it cannot be dismissed as mere word play either!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

BBC Does a Columbus -

- finds the lost tigers of Bhutan

On September 20, BBC published a report in its Earth News section of its web edition that has had the global wildlife and conservation community abuzz with excitement. In the article, ‘Lost tiger population discovered in Bhutan mountains’, editor Earth News, Matt Walker, described with unconcealed enthusiasm the expedition where the BBC team “left (camera) traps at an altitude of between 3,000m and 4,100m” in the Bhutan mountains for many months and returned eventually with footage of two adult tigers—one male and one female. “The discovery,” the report says, “has stunned experts, as the tigers are living at a higher altitude than any others known and appear to be successfully breeding.” Veteran cameraman Gordon Buchanan, who was on the expedition, was reportedly moved to tears when he saw the footage.
In a world starved of good news about wildlife, the global media lapped up this discovery. The BBC claim was relayed and published widely with no questions asked at all. It didn’t occur to anyone to ask what a ‘lost tiger population’ meant? When was it lost for it to have been discovered now? The BBC team had got the footage for sure, but how did they know where to put up the cameras in the first place?
The report does acknowledge the Bhutan Ministry of Agriculture and Forests and Forest Guard Phup Tshering, but the heroes of the entire episode are, of course, the BBC crew and conservationist Alan Rabinowitz, President of conservation organization, Panthera, and leader of the expedition. Walker credits Rabinowitz with having “suspected that tigers may also be living at higher altitude, following anecdotal reports by villagers suggesting that some were roaming as high as 4000m (13,000ft).”
The matter begs serious questioning: if local people had already known of the presence of the tigers, how can anyone claim their discovery? Why is it that local knowledge and understanding continues to be secondary to television crews and scientists?
BBC’s claim is not questionable only on semantics grounds and on its politics of lost, found and discovery, but also from the fact that there is considerable ‘hard’ evidence of the presence of tigers at high altitudes. For instance, a 2001 report of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) – Bhutan Program says that in “September 1999, a camera trap set up by a wildlife survey team captured a tiger at 3,400 meters, the highest altitude ever recorded for a tiger. In its note on the ThrumshingLa National Park, the Bhutanese Tourism Ministry notes: “the park made news in the year 2000 when a WWF-supported survey team captured a camera-trap image of a tiger at 3,000 meters – the first photographic evidence that the magnificent creatures exist at such high altitudes.” More recent documents like The Tiger Action Plan for the Kingdom of Bhutan 2006-2015 published by the Nature Conservation Division of Bhutan’s Ministry of Agriculture along with the WWF Bhutan Program and the May 2010 National Tiger Recovery Program Summary of Global Tiger Initiative also note that the tiger in Bhutan inhabits ranges from an altitude of 100m to 4100 m about sea level. Another camera trapping study conducted in 2008 in the Jigme Dorji National Park found both pugmarks and pictures of tigers at an altitude between 3,700 and 4,300 meters above sea level. Even the web page of IUCN’s Red List of threatened species observes that tigers have been recorded in Bhutan upto 4,500 meters above sea level.
All of this has been completely ignored in BBC’s claim and the plethora of media reports that appeared in the wake of this ‘find’ and ‘discovery’. There was one voice of contestation that came, not surprisingly, from wildlife researchers in Bhutan. Not surprisingly, further, this voice has been completely drowned out. The online news site published a report on BBC’s claim with a title that was as subtle as it was instructive. “Cameras catch big cat at 4,000 m plus”, the headline said, followed by the subtitle “Further evidence of the wide range of the tiger in Bhutan”. The reported noted incisively that Bhutanese wildlife conservationists were not calling it a ‘discovery’ but only more ‘evidence’ to prove that tigers do roam the jungles of Bhutan at an altitude as high as 4,100 m. Sonam Wangchuk, head of the Bhutanese Wildlife Conservation Division noted about their findings of about a year ago: “We’ve found pug marks and droppings (of tigers) at the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck national park. The only thing we don’t have is a footage of them.”
The gulf between the reality on the ground and what has been claimed is too evident to have been missed. There are no lost tigers in Bhutan. There is no way anyone could have found or discovered them.
A shorter version of the same story with the title 'BBC does a Columbus' was published in the 'Down to Earth' issue of October 15-31, 2010

Translocation of 'problem' animals is no solution to the human-wildlife conflict

The New Indian Express, 16th Oct 2010

A first of its kind satellite tracking project to monitor leopards in India recently released data of a young male leopard’s remarkable journey from the hinterland to the forests of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai. The leopard that was trapped in a well in the small town of Alephata, in Pune District was fitted with a satellite collar and released in the nearby forests of Malshej Ghat. In the 23 days that followed, the animal walked through agricultural lands, densely populated human habitations, across roads, a railway line and swam across a creek to cover a distance of 120 kms and reach the green oasis in the heart of India’s commercial capital.

The leopard when it was found trapped in the well. It was collared as part of the research project by the team (below). On the right is lead researcher, Vidya Athreya (Photo Courtesy: Project Waghoba)

Wildlife biologist Vidya Athreya, who is lead researcher of Project Waghoba ( that seeks to study leopard presence and behaviour in human-dominated landscapes, believes that this proof of the leopard’s journey has important policy implications to deal with cases of human-wildlife conflict across India. The first indications of this had been evident to her in 2003, when she started researching human-leopard conflict in the agriculture-dominated landscapes of Western Maharashtra. It is linked to a spate of incidents in the forests of Yawal WLS located in Jalgaon district of Maharashtra. These forests are inhabited by a range of wild animals including large carnivores such as leopards. They have also been dotted with human settlements for a very long time and yet there had been no instances of conflict with the carnivore that is one of the most intelligent and adaptive of wild cats.

All this suddenly changed towards the end of 2003. The two-month period from October 31 to December 24 saw six vicious attacks by leopards in the region that had not experienced a single one till then. The attacks stopped only when trap cages were put up and two leopards were caught in them. These were the same animals that had, only a few months ago, terrorised the human population in the agriculture-dominated landscape of Junnar near the city of Pune. Labelled ‘straying’ animals, they were trapped here and as per existing management policy moved 400 km to the forests of Yawal, where they were released back into the ‘wild’.

The identity of the leopards, the reason for their presence and the explanation of the attacks lay in a small electronic tag that lay inserted at the base of the tail of these animals. They had been electronically tagged before release as part of a pioneering research project by the Maharashtra Forest Department and assisted by Athreya and wildlife veterinarian Dr Aniruddh Belsare. The rice-grain-sized tag can be read like a bar-code in the supermarket and it was hoped that the tagging would help track the problem animals once they were captured and set free elsewhere. In the case of Yawal, Athreya and Belsare had shown that translocation of the problem leopards was no solution at all; it lay at the root of the problem. The translocation of the animal from the area of conflict had in fact caused the conflict to move to new areas. The animals had taken the conflict with then, and significantly, to an area where it had never existed.

The explanation lies in a simple fact of animal behaviour and biology. Translocated animals are forced to negotiate unfamiliar territory and this increases the chance of conflict. The stress encountered during the move itself can also result in an animal becoming more aggressive and problematic. Territorial animals like bears, leopards and tigers have a very strong homing tendency and instinctively try to return to the area from which they have been moved. “In the case of Yawal,” notes Athreya, “one of the problem animals was captured 90 km from its site of release in the direction of Junnar, the town from where it had been brought. ”

This was borne out again earlier in June this year, when an elephant from a herd responsible for large-scale damage was captured in the Hassan district of Karnataka. It was moved to the Bandipur National Park but had walked back 70 km towards its home territory within days. In another documented case in 2005, a herd of 20 elephants was relocated from the Hambantota town in south east Sri Lanka to the Yala National Park. One of them was radio-collared by the Centre for Conservation and Research and the Sri Lankan Department of Wildlife Conservation to track the progress of the relocation process. The collared animal, the researchers found out, was back at its original site in Hambantota in a few days time.

There is increasing evidence that translocation of what are considered ‘problem animals’ is no solution at all. “Translocation,” says Athreya, “is a procedure commonly used to deal with people or animals which are a problem. It is reactive and involves large amounts of resources. What we require are proactive processes, but these can be devised only after a careful analysis of the problem, be it conflict between villagers and wildlife in protected areas or in croplands.” Modern technology like micro-chipping, use of satellite and radio collars and innovative research projects are for the first time, giving important insights into the hitherto unknown outcomes of translocation projects.

— The writer is an environmental researcher, writer and photographer.

(Also see:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Protected Area Update - New Issue - October 2010

Dear Friends,
Below is the list of contents of new issue of the Protected Area Update (Vol. XVI, No. 5), October 2010 (No. 87). Please do forward this to other elists where you think this will be relevant. The entire issue can also be downloaded from the Kalpavriksh website at
If you want to receive the Update in the Word format write to me at the email below
We are, in fact, very happy to announce that all back issues of the PA Update are now available in their pdf forms from

I would also likely to again point out that the PA Update continues to need funds and support. Any contribution, big or small, is welcome and if you would like more details on how you can help or if you any ideas, please do write to me at

Many thanks
Pankaj Sekhsaria
Editor, Protected Area Update
C/o Kalpavriksh

News and Information from protected areas in India and South Asia
Vol. XVI No. 5
October 2010 (No. 87)


Many reasons to oppose a PA

Demands for removal of speed breakers inside Nagarjunsagar Srisailam TR
Culling of wild boars to be allowed in state

Tiger density goes up in Pakke TR

River islands of Assam are new corridors for wildlife
FD officials to be allowed use of firearms
Poachers killed, apprehended in two different incidents in Orang NP
Elephant killed in road accident on NH-37 in Kaziranga NP
Investigation demanded into forest official involvement in Kaziranga NP rhino poaching
Road widening threat to wildlife in Sonitpur Elephant Reserve and buffer of Nameri Tiger Reserve
Women take up frontline jobs of protection in PAs, other forest areas

Details of wildlife cases filed by Amit Jethva
Tourism department requests for more permits in Gir; FD refuses
Committee to recommend critical wildlife habitats met only once in three years

An estimated 1000 pangolins hunted in two months in Bellary region

Special measures proposed for newly declared Malabar WLS
Five Biodiversity Heritage Sites for state

MoEF asks MP to scrap the proposed Patrolling the Tiger Land plan

Students renew demand for plastic ban in Bhimashankar WLS
NHAI proposes eight underpasses on NH-6 through forests between Navegaon-Nagzira and the Tadoba-Andhari TR
State cautioned against curtailing area of proposed Mansinghdeo WLS

Wildlife awards instituted for conservation in the Garo Hills

Call for more protected areas in Orissa
Three member MoEF team to look into elephant deaths in Simlipal TR

Buoys to mark boundary of the Gulf of Mannar National Park

Threat to wildlife in Rajaji NP from traffic and industries
Gomukh to Uttarkashi stretch of River Bhagirathi to be declared eco-sensitive
Uttarakhand government against expansion of Askot WLS

Deer die during transportation from Bibhuti Bhushan WLS to the Sunderbans
Elephant attacks train in Mahananda WLS

Cheetah re-introduction proposed in Kuno-Palpur WLS, Nauradehi WLS and Shahgarh region in Jaisalmer district
2nd bench set up to hear Godavarman (Forest) Case in the SC
National Environmental Sciences Fellows Programme
No move to split the Indian Forest Service
Newsletter of the Nilgiri Natural History Society

Tiger population increases in Chitwan NP
Meeting of Indo-Nepal border forest officials to discuss conservation issues

Horton Plains slender loris, a primate considered extinct, but now photographed

Call for applications for the Whitley Award

International Workshop on amphibians in the Western Ghats


Tourism in and around PAs - A Paradigm shift needed



There have been many reasons and arguments against the creation of new protected areas (PAs) or the expansion of existing ones. The general impression is that governments and forest departments are always keen on expanding the PA network and communities or those who speak on their behalf are the ones opposing these moves.
The picture on the ground is actually more complex and this issue of the PA Update has two interesting examples – one from Uttarakhand and another from Maharashtra. In both these cases it is the state machinery that is against the expansion (or creation) of protected areas for reasons that have nothing to do with interests of wildlife or of the local communities. An interesting parallel was seen more than a decade ago when the Himachal Pradesh Government denotified about 10 sq km of the Great Himalayan National Park on the pretext that local communities were being negatively impacted by the national park. The real reason was that the Parbati Hydel Project had been held up and the only way to get it through was to have the river valley excluded from the PA.
Now, in Uttarakhand the state government is opposing the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) recommendation for expansion of the Askot Wildlife Sanctuary on the grounds that this will restrict their capacity to tap the high hydro-electric potential of the area. Already there are 14 such projects proposed within the existing sanctuary area (PA Update Vol. XVI, No. 2) and many others in the entire region. Local communities here have also been opposing the protected area, but then, they (at least some of them here) have also vehemently opposed the spree of dam building that the region is likely to see. The cancellation of the Loharinag Pala Hydel Project and the decision to declare the Gomukh – Uttarakashi stretch of the River Bhagirathi as an eco-sensitive zone is perhaps one outcome of this.
In Maharashtra, similarly, the long pending notification of the Mansinghdeo Wildlife Sanctuary is being held up because part of the land belongs to the Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra. The Corporation which has logged these forests for timber has in the past opposed handing over the land for inclusion in the sanctuary and the decade old proposal continues to languish. In 2004 (PA Update 50) it had even moved an application before the High Court, arguing that it would lose nearly Rs. 1400 crores if the ban on timber logging was implemented in the 10 km radius of PAs as had been suggested.
This is a situation we have seen happening repeatedly with only minor variations in the script. In the present scheme of protected areas and wildlife conservation, local communities are clearly the most dispensable entities. And in the present dominant paradigm of ‘development’ and primacy to commercial interests it is protected areas, wildlife and local people that are all together in being at the bottom of the list of priorities, if they find a place in that list at all.
There are different sets of people opposing wildlife conservation and protected areas for different reasons. It is important to realize that it is generally one set that manages to have its way.


Protected Area Update
Vol. XVI, No. 5, October 2010 (No. 87)

Editor: Pankaj Sekhsaria
Editorial Assistance: Reshma Jathar
Illustrations: Madhuvanti Anantharajan

Produced by
The Documentation and Outreach Centre, Kalpavriksh

Ideas, comments, news and information may please be sent to the editorial address:

Apartment 5, Shri Dutta Krupa, 908 Deccan Gymkhana, Pune 411004, Maharashtra, India.
Tel/Fax: 020 - 25654239.

Publication of the PA Update has been supported by
- Foundation for Ecological Security (FES)
- Duleep Matthai Nature Conservation Trust
- Greenpeace India
- Association for India's Development
- Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
- Indian Bird Conservation Network
Information has been sourced from different newspapers and the following websites

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Activists Use Legal Weapons to Stop Thermal Power Plants

Activists Use Legal Weapons to Stop Thermal Power Plants
By Pankaj Sekhsaria

HYDERABAD, India, Aug 27, 2010 (IPS) - Green activists have various ways of pushing their causes, from enlisting movie stars to launching protests, but India’s campaigners have also been quietly using legal weapons to try to get the projects they oppose, such as thermal plants, stopped or reversed.

This trend bears watching in the light of two cases where decisions affecting such projects, many of which are on the drawing board in different parts of India, have been made in courtrooms.

In July, the death of two protesters led to the cancellation of the environmental clearance of a thermal power plant project in southern Andhra Pradesh state, a decision that green activists took as victory.

But just a day before the Jul. 14 violence at the Nagarjuna Construction Company Power Projects Ltd project site at Sompeta, the Andhra Pradesh High Court dismissed a petition to stop a similar power plant project in the same district – Srikakulam.

This project by East Coast Energy Pvt Ltd is at Bhavanapadu in the wetlands area of Naupada village.

Lawyer Ritwick Dutta, representing the Paryavaran Parirakshana Sangham and other appellants says that Naupada is recognised by the Bombay Natural History Society and BirdLife International as a key habitat of the endangered Spot-billed Pelican, which breeds only in peninsular India, Sri Lanka and Cambodia.

Dutta had argued the case against the 12,000-crore (2.5 billion U.S. dollar) Nagarjuna project before the quasi-judicial National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA), which eventually cancelled the environmental clearance for the 2,640-megawatt plant.

In fact, the firing by police in Sompeta occurred at about the same time that the case was being argued before the appellate authority in New Delhi.

The results in the Nagarjuna and East Coast cases are different, but highlight how courtrooms are increasingly being asked to decide the fate of these projects – many already with environment clearances – in lawsuits by non-government groups protesting schemes that they say would displace communities and harm sensitive environments.

But Sanjay Upadhyay, a New Delhi-based Supreme Court lawyer, says that the trend of plaintiffs approaching the courts in environmental matters cannot be a long-term solution to deciding policy.

Instead, he says in an interview, internal mechanisms and administrative systems inside the government must be strengthened, so that conflicting issues are resolved before clearances are issued in the first place. "Internal arrangements are very weak and systems can’t be run by courtrooms", Upadhyay pointed out.

According to the 2009 report by the environmental group Kalpavriksh entitled ‘Calling the Bluff: Revealing the state of Monitoring and Compliance of Environmental Clearance Conditions’, the Ministry of Environment and Forests clears 80 to 100 projects every month with a range of environment and social conditions.

Thermal power accounts for more than 70 percent of India’s electricity supply. Its annual per capita electricity consumption has increased from 566.7 kilowatt-hours in 2002-03 to 704 kwh in 2007-08.

Among India’s southern states, Andhra Pradesh has the highest installed capacity in coal-based utilities, which generate nearly 6,700 mw.

State officials explain that thermal power plant projects represent a total investment of up to 85,000 crore rupees (18 billion dollars) in Srikakulam alone, aside from providing 10,000 mw of power altogether.

But former government bureaucrat E A S Sarma, now convenor of the Forum for a Better Visakha, argues that none of these projects should be allowed in the coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh.

"These are coming up under the policy of the state government to promote merchant power plants, where land is being given cheap to the developers at the cost of the coastal environment and livelihoods of the local people," he said.

A report by the environment ministry notes that the area where the Nagarjuna project was to proceed has significant biodiversity, including medicinal plants and at least 120 bird species. T Rama Rao, vice president of the Sompeta-based Paryavaran Parirakshan Sangham (Environment Protection Committee) that is leading the opposition to the project along with Teera Pranta Matsyaka Aikya Vedika (Coastal Fisherfolk Unity Platform), says nearly 250,000 people from 24 fishing and 40 farming villages would have been affected by it.

At least six thermal plants are planned in Andhra Pradesh. Some, like the 2,630-mw project at Bhavanapadu by East Coast Energy – the subject of the July decision upholding the environment clearance thus far – and the 2,640-mw plant of Alpha Infra Prop Pvt Ltd at Komarada in neighbouring Vizianagaram district already have environment clearances.

The fatal shooting of two protesters in July seems to have inspired other communities to stand up for themselves.

Sarma observed, "It is now clear to people that the government itself is violating the law. They have realised their strength and opposition to projects here has gained strength in the last few days."

"The larger issue is that we have created systems that are guzzlers of energy," he added. "We can’t hope to keep adding megawatts like we have been doing so far. The demand for electricity has been artificially created and we have to work on steps like reducing transmission losses, using more efficient end-use devices, and make our systems more efficient."

Meantime, Nagarjuna’s corporate communications head, P L Murari, said the company "would do anything to address the genuine concerns of the local people regarding setting up of the power plant."

But the NEAA’s order cancelling the Sompeta project clearly states: "The Ministry should undertake survey of all wetlands in Srikakulam district for their ecological sensitiveness as soon as possible and pending this, no project should be cleared in such locations." (END)