An online magazine of news and opinions from the Asia New Zealand Foundation

India trip leaves RNZ journalist optimistic about country's endangered species

RNZ journalist Lynn Freeman’s interest in wildlife conservation and tourism took her to India to investigate what that country is doing to protect its endangered species. The trip was made possible by an Asia New Zealand Foundation media travel grant. 

Lynn Freeman with a group of Indian woman

I wanted to explore India’s approach to wildlife conservation and wildlife tourism, which really go hand in hand.

India has been managing to increase its tiger population, unlike other parts of the world where poachers have decimated wild populations. Some parts of India have taken a very hard line on poaching – rangers shoot to kill poachers.

I have previously reported on wildlife conservation issues in Africa and in Ecuador, and have studied tiger poaching in Malaysia, where tiger numbers are declining, despite efforts of NGOs.

During my three weeks in India, I was able to travel to five different areas in central, north-west and northern India. I had a hugely productive, and insightful, three weeks. I not only recorded hours of face-to-face material, but took hundreds of photographs and videos for the RNZ website.

My primary contact was the Corbett Foundation, which has been working in wildlife conservation and community projects since the 1970s. Through them, I was able to visit remote villages and speak to villagers whose lives have been affected by their proximity to wildlife.

The Corbett Foundation has been working with small communities to improve their conditions and to encourage them to look after local wildlife rather than allowing poaching in their area.

I chose four of the five areas I visited – Assam in the north-west, Jim Corbett National Park in the northern state of Uttarakhand, and Bandhavgarh and Kanha in central India – because of the Corbett Foundation’s links and the fact they are tourist and wildlife hotspots.

My first port of call was Kaziranga National Park in north-west India. Here I recorded interviews about the wildlife issues at the national park, home to the rare one-horned rhino and explored measures to save them from poachers. I spoke to Indian tourists about how they feel about this region’s “shoot on sight” policy for people suspected of poaching in the parks. I also visited several communities where women are being shown practical skills, such as weaving, sewing, making candles and incense sticks, to allow them to make money for their families and to give them more independence and confidence.

Heading next to central India and Bandhavgarh National Park, I went on medical rounds with Corbett Foundation doctors. I also concentrated on the burgeoning wildlife tourism industry and how it is bringing educational and financial benefits but also problems with encroachment into wildlife habitats for tourism accommodation.

A drive to nearby Kanha brought me face to face with farmers who are being helped to raise productivity on their land.  Here I also learned about nomadic tribes who are being encouraged to leave their traditional lands in areas within local national parks.

Having found out about wildlife tourism centred on rhinos and tigers, I ventured into remote northern India to learn about the work of The Snow Leopard Trust.

I ended my time in India with a trip to Jim Corbett National Park, north of Delhi, where farmers are being compensated for stock slaughtered by tigers, leopards and sloth bears. Compensation means the farmers are less likely to see these animals as a threat to their livelihoods and are therefore less inclined to kill them.

A snow leopard in front of a stone wall

Despite the huge challenges India faces, with a rapidly growing human population and infrastructure presenting challenges for vulnerable and sprawling wildlife, I left India with a sense of optimism. The Corbett Foundation, Snow Leopard Trust and other NGOs I spoke to – and especially the students I met at schools I visited on my travels – are fully committed to preserving wildlife. The future rests in their hands. 

Freeman’s reports from India:

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25 January 2017