To mark the occasion of the International Tiger Day, celebrated annually on 29 July, Aaranyak organised a panel discussion in its series of “Eco Talk”, titled “Tiger and Communities- Connecting the dots in NE India”. Wildlife experts and social scientists from the region came together as panellists for this session and delved into issues of tiger conservation and the role of local communities in conservation through interactive discussion. The entire session was moderated by Mr. Udayan Borthakur, Head, Media Production and Communication Division, Aaranyak.
Among the panellists present were Dr. Firoz Ahmed, a senior scientist and Head, Tiger Research and Conservation Division, Aaranyak. In his introductory speech, he talked about how the tigers being tertiary predators, maintain ecosystems that they live in and reflects the health of an ecosystem. He has thrown light on benefits of long-term monitoring of tigers, their prey and habitat, use of technology in conservation among others. While taking on questions from various viewers, he talked about issues such as how the Karbi people in the neighbouring areas of Kaziranga National Park are not a stakeholder of tourism business. To address this, Aaranyak started an initiative, “Journey for Learning” to benefit the villagers. He mentioned that how securing tigers and habitats shall ensure important ecosystem services to mankind. He concluded on the note that how with changing times there is a need to relook at the conservation models and think of community-based conservation approaches.
Dr. Jayanta Kumar Sarma, a freelance social scientist and environmentalist vividly explained the role of communities in tiger conservation. He cited examples from various communities of northeastern states that how traditional beliefs and cultural ethos of the communities are aiding in conservation, which are also beneficial in terms of ecological services and financial benefits. He stressed the importance of documenting and scientifically interpreting the conservation ethics and cultural traditions of each community. He took various community-related questions from the viewers and addressed them.
Dr. Bibhuti P. Lahkar, a senior scientist with Aaranyak was among the panellists. He stressed on the importance of people’s participation in conservation. He highlighted that intervention from Aaranyak and other organization have helped the local communities around Manas National Park understand the importance of tiger conservation. Active community involvement is setting an example for conservation, and helping the tigers to recover in Manas, which bore the brunt of armed conflict few years ago. While addressing the participants questions, he mentioned that there have been considerations of bringing the entire tiger reserve under one umbrella, with a Field Director and multiple Deputy Directors for managing the Tiger Reserve and rendering protection to biodiversity rich areas such as the Ultapani.
Dr. Smarajit Ojah, Assistant Professor of Nowgong Girls College spoke on how the Laokhowa- Burachapori Wildlife sanctuaries are now an important tiger habitat. The sanctuaries which were merely considered as grazing reserves until the last decade have gained recognition in recent times, as a part of Kaziranga Tiger Reserve (buffer area). With the evidence of tiger breeding in the area, it brings a new hope altogether. The active participation from Laokhowa Burachapori Wildlife Conservation Society which involves local communities have helped shape the community conservation in the area. He urged the students to consider conservation as a wholesome approach rather than species-centric and highlighted that how student’s involvement help them set camera traps in the area.
The panel discussion was a successful one where many viewers posed different questions and each of them were addressed by the panellists.