By Karl Egloff, WWF, Director of Travel, Tourism & Conservation
While traveling, it inspires me to see the presence of WWF’s work and messages around the world. After a spectacular trip on Nat Hab’s Grand India Wildlife Adventure, I came back with a great appreciation of the work WWF-India and its partners are doing on the ground to protect wildlife and their habitats while engaging the communities dependent on these natural areas.
WWF has been working in India since 1969 and is the country’s largest independent conservation organization. Their work with priority species – such as tigers – spans several landscapes from reserves in central India to the national parks of the eastern-most region of India. I was fortunate to visit these reserves and parks during my trip to India.
In India, tiger reserves mostly comprise of a core area and a buffer zone. The core area is usually a national park surrounded by a buffer zone including a wildlife sanctuary and/or other forest areas. A part of the reserve, sometimes comprising even the core area, is open for a fixed period during a year for game drives with licensed guides. The buffer zone usually includes small villages and settlements with farms. WWF-India works with local villagers living within these buffer zones to mitigate human tiger conflict. It provides immediate financial support to local communities in case of loss of cattle, human injury or death. This relief helps control retaliatory killings of tigers by the local communities who have experienced losses.
WWF-India conducts regular environmental education activities with local communities to raise awareness of the critical issues facing conservation, and the steps they can take to help. These awareness programs are targeted at students and teachers in schools around tiger reserves as well as urban cities. Awareness programs are also organized for various tourism stakeholders, encouraging them to follow and promote environment and wildlife friendly practices around wildlife habitats. Local communities are engaged in programs that discourage the hunting of wild animals.
Our expedition leader explained that another way WWF works with national parks is by training rangers and frontline staff on how to monitor tigers and prey populations as well as controlling wildlife crime. In the earlier years of the parks, the rangers were not well-equipped to handle such important tasks, and park officials were seen patrolling the area on foot in just their slippers. Thanks to WWF, state governments and other NGOs, park rangers have the equipment and training to more effectively patrol the parks.
And it’s not just about the tigers. WWF is working across these parks to protect many of the priority species so that they are able to thrive in their natural habitats. Assam, home to Kaziranga National Park and the last stop on our trip, houses the largest population of greater one-horned rhinos on earth. These magnificent and intriguing creatures came very close to extinction by 1975, and only 600 individuals survived in the wild in India and Nepal. Today, about 3500 survive in India and Nepal. Throughout their range, their habitat continues to decrease due to human pressures and the ever-present threat of poaching. WWF has been working on rhino conservation for over four decades. WWF and its partners initiated the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 (IRV 2020). The vision of the program is to increase the total rhino population in Assam to about 3000 by the year 2020 and just as importantly ensure that these rhinos are distributed over several protected areas to provide lasting viability of Assam’s metapopulation of rhinos.