Kumaoni villagers script Corbett’s success story

February 29th, 2008 - 9:53 am ICT by admin  

(Feature)
By Sanjeeb Baruah
Corbett (Uttarakhand), Feb 29 (IANS) A unique partnership between Kumaoni villagers and the forest department at the Jim Corbett National Park has helped protect many rare wildlife species and scripted one of the world’s best conservation stories. Here, the villagers work as ‘gilis’ - it means forest guards in the local Kumaoni language. They guide the tourists to scenic spots, help them choose the right place for angling and keep a watchful eye on illegal activities in the park.

This modest endeavour by the forest department has created employment opportunities for the local villagers. The active participation of locals has helped the park management monitor the vast areas of the park that straddle the Shivalik foothills in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand.

The 1,300-sq-km park has about 130 tigers, 500-plus Asiatic wild elephants and around 120 leopards besides sambar and charismatic spotted deer. The park also has a large variety of small-bodied mammals, avian species and precious flora.

At a time when the country’s wildlife is hit by a growing man-animal conflict, poaching and livestock pressures, the Corbett national park - located about 290 km from Delhi - is a success story that many wildlife managers would love to replicate.

“This collaborative programme has brought together the locals, the government, the tourism sector and other stakeholders closer to the conservation process. It was a formidable task, but we managed to do that,” said Ajay Ghale, corporate chief naturalist of Leisure Hotels, which offers vacation trips to Corbett for its customers.

The park boasts of a substantial tiger population even as other tiger reserves have failed miserably on this count.

Until a few years ago, the Ramganga river, the lifeline of the park’s flora and fauna, had been subjected to unrestrained fishing and pollution. It threatened the aquatic life and land-based species.

Rampant dynamite blasts and the use of poison for killing rare golden and black mahaseers, a species of fish that was already endangered by the construction of dams and pollution in rivers, led to a drastic decline in their numbers in the Ramganga.

But now, with collective efforts, the fish has bounced back from the verge of extinction. Some predators also prey on these fish.

The village committees and resort owners jointly protect the 25-km stretch of the Ramganga river in Corbett.

“Though angling is allowed in the river, it is only for catch and release. The forest department issues permits for that. And each angler is charged Rs.550,” said Ghale.

“Also, wild animals come to the river banks to quench their thirst and that offers an ideal place for tourists to spot rare animals,” said Ghale, who educates vacationers about the wildlife here.

“Staying at the Corbett Hideaway (one of the resorts owned by the group here) offers a unique experience of the wilderness,” he added.

Some of the factors that contributed to the better management of the park include the active anti-poaching patrol in the park, which involves four administrative divisions - Durga Devi, Dikala, Bijrani and Jhirna zones.

Though the presence of around 70-80 villages in the buffer area of the park has been a threat to the sensitive ecosystem, “the eco-development programme of the forest department has turned it into an advantageous situation”, said Sanjay Chhimwal, programme officer (Wildlife) of the NGO Corbett Foundation.

The effective management of tourists in the park has helped generate a steady flow of income, which is used for eco-developmental projects.

“Prompt compensation for crop loss and cattle lifting by wild animals has also helped keep the man-animal conflict under control. The amount of compensation usually ranges from Rs.2,000 to Rs.5,000 on a case to case basis,” said Chhimwal.

In 1956, the park was named Jim Corbett national park in memory of naturalist Jim Corbett. It is also India’s oldest national park.

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