Introduction

Why "Wild and Savage" you might want to know. The animals and birds are not "savage" are they? You are right. They are not. But my website is not all about these animals and birds. It is also about us humans, and our savagery, and the impact that our greed for more land, more trees, more mineral wealth, more.... has over wildlife.

India has, on paper, just over 5% of its land reserved for forests, but, in actual fact (sic), has only about half of that figure. When we have not learnt to live with almost 98% of the land, what makes us presume that by taking over the meagre 2% forest land, we can become self-sufficient?

Again, on paper at least, we (India) have the best laws governing our forest wealth, and the noblest intentions. National parks and sanctuaries are divided into core areas (where only forest department officials can visit, and no logging or clearing is permitted), tourism zones, and buffer areas. In principle, villagers, who had been resettled when national parks and sanctuaries were created, are allowed to enter and collect forest produce for their personal use, like they had been doing for centuries. Only about 5-10% of the forests are meant for tourists. However, the ground realities are vastly different, and all is not hunky dory as envisaged.

Core areas are rarely visited by the skeleton staff that the forest department is given. The skewed policies of the Indian government have ensured that the forest department has become top heavy, with very few ground-level workers to monitor the health of forests.

Too many restrictive and whimsical measures imposed by each successive divisional forest officer (DFO), who regards the area under him as his or her personal fiefdom, has already sounded the death knell of tourism zones, or will soon do so. Admittedly, not all are like this, but there are too many of their ilk for comfort. For example, in Karnataka forests, tourists are allowed "safaris" for only about 2.5 hours in the morning and about 2 hours in the evening, whereas in Bandhavgarh, Tadoba, Kanha, Corbett or Ranthambhore (to name only a few), tourists are permitted entry for about 5 hours in the morning and about 4 hours in the evening! Again, admittedly, wildlife tourism in our country is extremely unregulated in most national parks, and some regulation is in order. However, the answer is surely not in preventing tourism altogether, as some mandarins in the centre (read Delhi) seem to think!

Wildlife tourism, if properly regulated, can bring wealth to the people whose lands were usurped for the development of national parks. Frequent tourist patrolling can be an effective deterrent on poaching activities. There can be no better example of this than my own. The images and video that my family and I took of a male tiger caught in a jaw trap in Nagarhole NP (Kabini side) on May 31, 2002, was responsible for the arrest of over 35 poachers. Subsequent investigations showed that these poachers had staked out in the park for over two years and their presence had gone undetected until our "expose". It is my strong belief that the core areas, too, should be thrown open to regulated wildlife tourism. The key word here is, of course, "regulated", for it is plain to see the deleterious effects that unregulated tourism can wreak on the fragile forest environment.

The buffer zones, too, need active policing to prevent all and sundry from entering and plundering forest wealth, as is the case now in almost all national parks. Villagers send their cattle, sheep, goats deep into forests to graze, thereby endangering the health of wild animals, and precipitating man-animal conflicts, which have only one result  the death of the animal in question. Domestic-to-wild animal transmission of rinderpest almost wiped out the entire gaur population in Karnataka in the 70s. Fortunately, their numbers have bounced back and the state has a healthy population of these magnificent animals once more.