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Ranthambhore National Park saw a tiger poaching crisis in the early and mid-2000s. The animal would be hunted for its pelt and claws, which were sold for use in traditional medicine and folk remedies. Numbers had dropped to as low as 18 in 2005.
Tiger Watch, a local NGO, worked with local communities and the Rajasthan Forest Department to help change things. The first fix was to collaborate with police to shut down poaching gangs, and the second, to educate newer generations of the indigenous Mogya people, who lived in the area. A nomadic tribe of hunter-gatherers, they were brought into the mainstream to relieve anthropogenic pressure on Ranthambhore’s animal population. The tigers soon, bounced back—but with newer discoveries on conservationists’ hands.
The big cats were no longer restricting themselves to the reserve. This became most apparent when a solitary tiger, T-56, walked to the forests of Madhya Pradesh, some 235 kilometres away. A new programme, dedicated to monitoring and reduction of human-wildlife conflict, thus became necessary. That’s how the Village Wildlife Volunteer Program was born.
Working with the Forest Department, multiple rural communities and the tourism industry, Tiger Watch has trained 50 locals (mostly from the Van Gujjar community of buffalo herders), who have further created their own networks. The villagers have decades of traditional knowledge about the forests, and access to areas that officials often cannot visit. Their training, thus, helped create a streamlined, preventative process to poaching, with the help of modern technology.
Using camera traps and smartphone messaging, the volunteers now report and attempt to prevent wildlife crime inside the reserve. They also stay vigilant of tigers moving in and out of the protected area. The tiger we mentioned earlier, T-56? The news of his movement was possible only because a volunteer kept watch over his migration across the Trans-Chambal corridor.
In cases where wild animals venture into farmlands, attack livestock or start eating crops, the volunteers also intervene as middlemen to secure timely cattle compensation and prevent any revenge kills. Ranthambhore's spread is just over 392 square kilometres, with large human settlements around its periphery.
The Village Wildlife Volunteers Program was launched in 2013. According to Tiger Watch, it has led to Ranthambhore housing at least 50 tigers today. For more information, you can visit the official website.
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