By Shilpa Raina
At the beginning of 20th century, there were an estimated 40,000 tigers in India, but this count has now reduced to a meagre 1,706. It is an alarming figure, but tiger conservationist Valmik Thapar hasn't given up yet. He feels the national animal can be saved by adapting innovative wildlife tourism modules practised in Africa and by revamping age-old recruitment processes.
"We should learn from Africa. Their wildlife policies allow locals to manage a large part of the land for wildlife. We don't even match up to the 'A' of Africa when it comes to preserving and conserving our wildlife. Their forest departments try all possible models a human mind can think of," Thapar told IANS in an interview.
"Their Masai Mara park in Kenya is one of the best and successful modules. Local people, resort owners and the government work together in partnership and locals get a share when tourists come to the park.
"This way, locals get more than $100 million a year from revenue generated from tourism. This is innovative tourism of not ruling but serving, something that is obsolete in our system," he added.
According to the tiger census of 2010, the big cat's number has dwindled to 1,706, but the 61-year-old conservationist in his new book, "The Last Tigers", published by Aleph, dismisses this figure and said the number was a mere 1,000 to 1,200.
Thapar, who established the Ranthambore Foundation in 1987 along with a non-government organisation connecting all those who wanted to save tigers, from locals to individuals and governments, has also drawn a blueprint for the Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan where only 26 tigers are left.
He has also discussed the changes he wishes to see in the recruitment process of Indian Forest Service (IFS), a force whose role involves wildlife management, soil conservation, surveying, and handling weapons.
Other than talking about his favourite animal, Thapar has openly pointed out in his book about bureaucratic struggles during his stint in the government.
"Our system of recruitment in the forest department is extremely outdated, and we still follow British course structure... like how to cut a tree? We don't teach them anything about protecting wildlife. More....