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Tag: Non-fiction

WWF-India staff’s timely act prevents poaching attempt in a critical Central Indian tiger corridor

(Note: First published here.)

The Kanha-Pench Corridor
The Kanha-Pench corridor in Central India offers crucial connectivity between the two important tiger source populations in Kanha and Pench through extensive tracts of forests. Such forest corridors offer much needed contiguity between different tiger populations, thereby preventing their isolation as well as subsequent loss of genetic vigour, and help in long term tiger conservation.

These corridor forests have water holes that are used by wild animals dispersing through the corridor during the summer months. These spots are vulnerable to poaching as poachers can easily target wild animals, including tigers, coming to drink water through use of traps and poisons. For the past two years, WWF-India’s Satpura Maikal Landscape (SML) Programme staff members have been engaged in extensive monitoring of such waterholes in the Kanha-Pench corridor during summer to prevent waterhole poisoning. The monitoring is done in collaboration with the Madhya Pradesh state Forest Department.

One such crucial water hole is located in the Atarwani beat of the South Seoni Forest Division in the corridor near the Pench Tiger Reserve. During tiger monitoring exercises it was found that tigers and other animals such as gaur, barking deer and several species of birds frequently visited this waterhole during summer.

The Poaching Attempt
On the evening of 29th March, Girish Patel, WWF-India Field Officer, while on his scheduled waterhole monitoring came across a group of villagers at the water hole. As he recounts, “I saw a group of villagers from different villages namely Atarwani, Sakhadehi, Dhobisara and Darasi. Curious, I asked why they were sitting there. They replied that they were just passing by. So I started moving towards the waterhole and to my surprise they followed me and I suddenly saw nets set up with bamboo near the waterhole. In a flash, I understood from my experience working in this area what they were up to. But instead of reacting in shock, I behaved normally and asked them about the nets. They admitted that they setup the traps for small mammals and birds. I casually took photographs and shot some video for documentary evidence. I soon left and immediately informed the Range Officer of that place as well as the Divisional Forest Officer and my seniors”.

Unfortunately, by the time Forest Department personnel reached the spot the suspected poachers had decamped but the traps setup around the water hole were confiscated. Due to the documentary evidence collected by Mr. Patel an arrest warrant was later issued against the suspects and the case is currently under investigation.

Prompt and decisive actions such these will create a deterrent among potential poachers and hence reduce the frequency of such incidents. Increased vigilance in this area will lead to better protection of tigers and other wildlife which in turn will improve the functionality of the critical Kanha Pench Corridor.

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Berlin-Notes-IV

So just like that a month has flashed past. Only about 36 hours left before I catch my flight back to Delhi. The last couple of weeks have been relatively quiet but interesting.

They began with the meeting at Ostkreuz, the photo agency, where I got to know its working and organization through Anne and met its head. Anne also looked through my personal photography projects and offered some valuable inputs which will help me greatly in my work.

The next day Anne took me to the photography school run by the head of Ostkreuz. The school offers a two years advanced diploma in photography and has become quite popular of late. I interacted with some of the students, observed a couple of classes and also did a small presentation on Aksgar to them. In the discussion that followed I got some good feedback on the work we have shown on Aksgar so far.

At the photography school

The next few days were spent in winding up work at Loupe on the background research for their documentary and the tutorial with Christof, the editor. Christof offered some basic tips on editing and he also went through the films I’ve done so far and offered some advice on some things that I could improve upon while editing. Again, valuable advice which should help me a lot with my work for WWF.

For the weekend in between I visited Prague with a friend. It was perfect timing! The weather was splendid, warm with blue skies and it was just great to just wander around the breathtakingly beautiful old town part of Prague. The city luckily escaped damage during both the World Wars and the result is one of the best preserved European capitals. Only dampener was that the city was overrun with other tourists like me!

In the remaining week a series of meetings were arranged. One was with one of the main partners of the startup media company I had mentioned previously who are doing great work with multimedia. We had a long and fruitful discussion and this might lead to some good collaboration between them and Aksgar.

I also met with Katia, the one whose flat I had sublet, at her office. Her office in fact organizes the Berlin Biennale and is located in a well known art gallery called KW. We discussed the organization of the festival and I also got to check out the latest art exhibition currently on display at KW.

The other meeting was with Andreas of European Photography. This was one of the most important meetings for me personally as what Andreas has been doing and what we want to do with Aksgar are quite similar. The meeting turned out to be very fruitful. I learnt many things about how European Photography is published and the work that goes on behind the scenes. Andreas also come up with a fantastic suggestion for an offline event in collaboration with Aksgar. I do hope that works out!

In between, I met with Ashwath and photographed him as he clowned around in the center of Berlin. It was a fantastic experience to see him in action in full clown costume especially as I’ll never be able to do in a thousand years what he did in a single evening! The kind of interactions he had with the people on the street and their reactions to him were amazing to observe and photograph. Later that week, last Sunday to be exact, over lunch, we had a great discussion and the beginnings of a collaborative project are shaping up, which I’m really looking forward to! Here is a sneak preview of a photo from the clowning. A proper photo essay will follow.

A Clown in Berlin

And finally, through Imke of the Goethe Institut, I got invited to the reception of the cultural management program they run for the Middle East. So got a chance to meet more ‘cultural managers’, this time from places such as Morocco, Egypt, Palestine, Yemen and Jordan. Was a nice evening even though most of the fellows were not from the photography side but instead were from the theatre and music side of the arts. One particular conversation with the Egyptian fellow was very memorable as he recounted his participation in the recent Egyptian revolution!

I also got to meet my co-ATSA fellow Reza from Bangladesh there and later at his place over some nice Bangla tea he offered some good inputs on the offline event for Aksgar I mentioned above.

All in all, it has been an interesting month. As always one wishes so much more could have been done like squeezing in the last week in another institution perhaps. But then wishes always want to be horses! The fact that this secondment has given me an opportunity to meet a diverse array of people doing some very interesting and good work is the biggest plus I should be taking with me. The challenge ahead would be to apply all this learning to the development of Aksgar, my work with WWF and also give concrete shape to the potential collaborations on offer.

Now, it is time to pack, do some last minute shopping and look forward to checking out Helsinki a bit if possible during the long layover there. Thank you for reading these rambling posts, regular programming should resume on the blog with some big changes being planned! More on that later.

As always here are some photographic moments from the past couple of weeks.

At Prague’s beautiful old town square

From the Charles Bridge, looking at the Vlatava River, Prague

A detail on Prague’s beautiful Charles Bridge

A detail of Prague’s dom (cathedral) located in the castle

A detail of Prague’s famous astronomical clock

Frank Gehry’s amazing dancing house

Berlin’s magnificent Dom (cathedral)

Robert Rauschenberg’s Riding Bikes installation, a symbol of the union of West and East Berlin

At the Wannsee, a lake on the outskirts of Berlin

The woods of Pfauninsel (Peacock Island), an island in Berlin’s Wannsee.

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Berlin-Notes-III

How quickly time flies especially when you are not looking! The last two weeks have been quite interesting. While life on the secondment front has been a little quiet, with most of the work being the initial background research work for a new documentary film, it has been an instructive process nonetheless into how a documentary film takes shape.

First, I had a long discussion with Antonia, the founder of Loupe where I’m doing my secondment, on how documentary film production works in Germany, the commissioning system, the TV channels that buy or fund the documentaries and the budgets involved. Based on this and other discussions there are possibilities of collaboration with Loupe shaping up with two potential film projects on the anvil!

In between I got to go with Anne Schönharting, a German photographer, on two of her portrait assignments. While I didn’t have to do much it was interesting to see another photographer in action, especially on assignment shooting strangers and the methods she used to get a good portrait. This is something I’m not so good at so it was a good way to pick up some tricks and tips. No wonder then that Anne has shot some great portraits!

On a photo shoot with Anne

One evening I went for what I thought would be a very good discussion on ‘Art & Social Media: a long distance relationship?’ which was being organized as part of the Social Media Week and featured at least on paper some very interesting people from the art world in Berlin. Unfortunately, it turned out to be quite tepid and boring as there was nothing new in the discussion. Yes, we all know the art world needs to engage more with and make better use of social media. But at least I got a free t-shirt for my trouble!

At a Berlin Social Media Week event

Through Antonia, I managed to reach Joern, Head-Press Relations, WWF-Germany and through him got an offer to travel up to the Baltic sea to see seals, the largest carnivores in Germany! Needless to say, I jumped at the offer. So early morning on Wednesday I found myself on a train with Thomas, the cameraman for the shoot, to Stralsund, the coastal city that lies on the Baltic Sea. At Stralsund, we met up with Britta, Press Officer of WWF-Germany based in Hamburg and Catherine, the WWF-Germany researcher based in Stralsund who is in charge of a conservation project for the seals.

From Stralsund we drove to the island of Rugen. From there we went on a boat out into the sea. It is a beautiful coast, quite well known for the beaches on the nearby sea resort town of Binz as well as for the mysterious white chalk cliffs on the other side of the island. The boat ride was a little rough as the sea was choppy with a keen wind trying its best to throw us off course. But we made it to the spot where the seals had been sighted previously. Unfortunately, as expected because of the rough sea, the rocks on which they are usually seen were under water. But the seals did not disappoint us too much.

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Berlin Notes II

So yesterday and today were quite hectic. Yesterday afternoon, I met an old friend for lunch. She was my senior in University and we were meeting after many years so it was good to catch up. We had some very nice Italian food and as it was a lovely and warm day went walking via the Museuminsel, an island in the Spree river that houses world famous museums like Pergamon and Bode, to Hackescher Markt and Alexanderplatz areas of Berlin which are these really nice open squares. Alexanderplatz, formerly part of East Berlin, also has the really huge fernsehturm or TV tower that is iconic for Berlin.

Bode Museum

In the evening I then went to meet my co ATSA fellow Rashmi Dhanwani, who is doing her secondment at the 11th International Literature Festival that is currently taking place in Berlin. We attended a few sessions, one on the limits of freedom of speech which had Fleming Rose, the person responsible for publication of the Danish Cartoons that created such a furore sometime back, another session on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the best session of all, an interesting discussion with Pankaj Mishra on how Indian society is dealing with increasing modernity. Later, we went and had a couple of drinks in the writer’s tent and engaged in some nice conversation with some very interesting Indian, Bangladeshi, Hungarian and New Zealander writers and poets including Altaf Tyrewala and Peter Zilahy who were so nice to talk to! So all in all a productive day.

The famous TV Tower of Berlin

Today my secondment started. As part of the secondment, which I’m doing with Loupe, I’ll be looking in on the post production of a film they have made from tomorrow onwards. I’ll also accompany them on a film shoot if possible. And whenever I find time I’ll be doing some background research for one of their upcoming films.

Through Antonia, who started and manages Loupe, I met today Anne Schönharting, one of the photographers who is managed by a well known photo agency called Ostkreuz, which was started by a group of 7 former East German photographers. I’ll also accompany Anne on a portrait shoot one of these days.

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Berlin Diary I

Late last year, I received an ARThink South Asia Fellowship from the Goethe Institut for the year 2011-12. One of the components of the fellowship is that I get to go to Germany and work with a cultural institution of my choice to gain some first hand experience on how art institutions are run. So this is where I’m at now. For the next 4-5 weeks I’ll be based in Berlin. I’ll be on a secondment with a documentary film production company called Loupe for 3 weeks and for the remaining week and in between will be trying to meet people in the photography field.

During the time I’m in Berlin I’m supposed to record observations of my time and learning here so for the next one month this is what I’ll be doing, hopefully on a regular basis. And now, after this explanatory prologue, the first installment follows:

So after all the last minute hassles I made it to Berlin after two tiring flights with a stopover in Helsinki (see photo). Dog tired due to the lack of sleep and the bad seats I got on the flights so feeling slightly numb now even though coming back to Germany should have been a little emotional.

As an aside, some of Finnair’s ground staff at the T3 New Delhi seriously need lessons in courtesy! The lady who gave me my boarding pass was rude, uncommunicative, did not give me a seat of my choice on both the flights (I was seated in the middle next to a really fat guy on the flight to Helsinki even though I asked for aisle seating on the window side) and to top it did not even inform me that I had not got my seating of choice! I only found out after I got on to the plane.

Waiting at the Helsinki Airport for a connecting flight

Moving on, for the time I’ll be in Berlin I’m sharing the flat of a German lady. It is a very nice and big place, one of those old Berlin flats with rather high ceilings having ornate work on them. The floors are wooden and make a nice creaking sound as you walk on them. The silence in the house takes a little getting used to though. I’m so used to the soothing hum of a fan while sleeping that when I was living in Germany before I bought a table fan just so I could run it for the background noise and sleep easily! I guess that won’t be possible this time so goodbye easy sleep.

The shimmering red curtains of my room!

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From Pobitora to Manas

An eye witness account of the translocation of rhinos carried out in Assam between 27-29 Dec 2010 and 17-19 Jan 2011.

Note: An edited version of this was first published as a special feature in the Jan-March 2011 edition of Panda.

Prologue

It is 5 am on a Tuesday morning, towards the end of 2010, and a thick fog conceals the vast grasslands of the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, located about 60 km east of Guwahati. I’m on the back of an elephant, for the first time in my life I should add, sitting behind the mahout and hanging on for dear life with one hand while trying to shoot with a video camera with the other hand. We are following three elephants, each of which has one veterinarian equipped with a tranquilizing gun. Much ahead of them, lost in the gloom of the fog, is the locator team. Waiting behind at the elephant camp is the logistics team along with forest department officials and guards, WWF and other NGO staff as well as a host of other support staff. All of them are part of the team tasked with translocating rhinos from Pobitora to Manas National Park in northern Assam under the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 (IRV 2020, see below).

The sun is still not up but a faint glow suffuses the fog. An occasional bird call and grunts of the elephants disturb the stillness of the early morning. I slip into a pleasant limbo induced by the gentle rocking of the elephant. But it does not last long. A burst of static shatters the stillness. The locator team is contacting the veterinarians through the wireless. And they have some good news. They have found a couple of rhinos and apprise the team of the location. We rush together into the fog. By this time the sun has risen and is a pale disc hanging low in the sky. Suddenly, a little ahead of us, a silhouette resolves itself into the thick outlines of a rhino. Behind it is another rhino.

The First Attempt

The elephant I’m on falls back a little while the elephants of the tranquilizing team take up a triangular position to box in the rhino and enable correct targeting. Each tranquilizing gun is loaded with a diluted solution of the powerful narcotic-Etorphine. I’m told one undiluted drop of which if exposed to bare skin is capable of killing an adult human within minutes! However, the rhino doesn’t play to their plan. It quickly cuts through the fourth side before the doctors can take proper aim. We follow him and there begins a fruitless chase that lasts more than an hour and a half. By this time the sun has climbed the eastern sky. The fog has also cleared improving visibility. The tranquilizing team decides to leave this unsporting rhino alone and they move to a different location with the locator team. I return to the base camp to join the remaining translocation team there. I’m actually grateful for the chance to dismount the elephant, even if it was an enjoyable experience, as it was not easy shooting with one hand while hanging on to only a rope with the other hand.

The Second Attempt

The locator and tranquilizing teams then move off to a new location in another part of the sanctuary in the hopes of having better luck at finding rhinos. But little did they know that their luck would stay rotten until early afternoon. After a series of near misses, partial hits and uncooperative rhinos the tranquilizing team finally meets with success and manages to tranquilize a female. The rest of us rush to the new location to find the rhino tottering with her concerned calf hovering nearby. A decision is taken to tranquilize the sub-adult rhino also as it is a female too and more importantly would keep the mother and her calf together.

The mother quickly falls asleep and the logistics team swings into action. A bulldozer is brought in to dig a shallow trench next to the tranquilized rhino so that a platform can be placed there onto which the rhino can be rolled. This is soon accomplished.

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Helping the tigers of Kopijhola

(Note: a modified version was first published here.)

Advocacy to protect an important forest block in Central India’s Kanha-Pench corridor

The importance of corridors
Tigers need space due to their territorial nature. Sub-adult tigers are forced to move away from their birth ranges to adjacent protected areas to establish new territories. In this process they make use of available corridor forests that connect protected areas. The Kanha-Pench corridor covering an area of 16,000 sq km in Central India offers such crucial connectivity between the two major tiger source populations in Kanha and Pench through extensive tracts of forests. Together with the Kanha-Achanakmar corridor in Chhattisgarh, these forest tracts form one of the most important tiger habitats in the world. Such forest corridors offer much needed contiguity between different tiger populations, thereby preventing their isolation as well as subsequent loss of genetic vigour, and help in long term tiger conservation.

The Kopijhola Forest Block
The Kanha-Pench corridor is made up of different forest administrative blocks. One such important forest block is Kopijhola-Sonekhar, covering an area of 182 sq. km. The Kopijhola village has a population of about 450 people who depend on the forests for livelihood. In spite of the human settlement, the area around Kopijhola has good bamboo forests, mixed forests and teak plantations.

A survey on tiger occupancy by Wildlife Institute of India and WWF-India recorded the presence of tiger in the Kopijhola-Sonekhar block, including a direct sighting. This forest is also home to other wild animals like leopards, hyena, wild dogs, sambar, four-horned antelope, spotted deer and palm civet, to name a few. Subsequent to the tiger occupancy survey, WWF-India’s Central India field team consisting of Senior Project Officers-Sanjay Thakur and Jyotirmay Jena undertook a rapid survey of the Kopijhola Forest Block to assess its biodiversity and current status. During the survey, apart from megafauna, the team also recorded 30 species of butterflies and 57 species of birds. River Hirri flows across the forest block and has water availability even in summer. This availability of a perennial water source has resulted in the presence of sufficient prey base for tigers.

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Villagers in Central India Set an Example for Conservation at the Community Level

(Note: First published here.)

Say no to establishment of a lime kiln to protect a reserve forest
Located in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandla district, Bagaspur is a pilot village where WWF-India is working with the villagers to conserve wildlife for the past six years. It is located inside Central India’s Satpura Maikal landscape, which is home to approximately 13% of the world’s wild tiger population. Among the issues facing the landscape are over-exploitation of the natural resources, particularly the wood from the forests. To overcome these, WWF-India has facilitated formation of a village level Forest Conservation Committee that sustainably manages the nearby reserve forest.

© SML Mandla Office/ WWF-India

A photo of a lime kiln

Overcoming the lure to make a few quick bucks
A few months ago, in 2010, the villagers of Bagaspur were approached by a lime kiln owner from a nearby village who promised them money to develop the village and construct the village road. He even offered to construct a temple for their use. In return he wanted the villagers to let him open a lime kiln in the village He had secured the required permission from forest department to source the wood from the surrounding reserve forest.

The villagers realized that the heating requirements of a lime kiln for a five day period were 2 – 3 truck loads of wood. The lime kiln owner had an assured supply of only a truck load of wood with the permissions in place. He wanted the villagers to source the remaining wood requirements from the reserve forest, illegally! He offered to pay for such illegally collected wood. The villagers, however, were against even sourcing fallen branches for the kiln from the forest, let alone felling green trees for wood on such a scale. They refused straight away.

© SML Mandla Office/ WWF-India

The reserve forest around Bagaspur village

Support to villagers by WWF-India’s field team
Undeterred by the refusal of the villagers the lime kiln owner then approached Girish Patel, part of the SML team at WWF-India’s Mandla field office, and offered to pay him if he could convince the villagers in agreeing to set up the kiln. But Girish also refused point blank. As he recalls, “I felt the villagers had rights over the reserve forest although not for illegal cutting for commercial purpose.”

When Girish also rejected the offer, the lime kiln owner even threatened him with dire consequences if he did not change his mind. However, both Girish and the villagers remained steadfast in their refusal and the kiln owner had to abandon his plans.

Girish says from his past experience that had this kiln been allowed to come up then many more kilns would have come up within a short space of time in the surrounding villages like Pauri, Thangul, Umaria to name a few, which would have led to rapid degradation of the reserve forest in the area.

© SML Mandla Office/ WWF-India

Villagers of Bagaspur meeting with WWF-India field staff

The villagers also wrote a letter to the district collector requesting him not to allow such a lime kiln to come up in their village.

As Mr. Sumeri Lal Marathi, President of Bagaspur’s Forest Conservation Committee concluded, “We, the villagers of Bagaspur, refused the proposed lime kiln as increased cutting of wood over the years would have lead to the erosion of the natural resources from the forest on which we all are dependant.”

By forgoing short terms gains for long term conservation needs, the villagers of Bagaspur have set an inspiring example.

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Fragmentation threat in the Kanha-Pench Corridor

(Note: First published here.)

Report by WWF-India highlights threat by proposed railway line expansion to crucial corridor linking tiger habitats.

Kanha-Pench tiger corridor
Located in the Central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, the Kanha-Pench corridor is one of the most important forest corridors in India and facilitates tiger dispersal between Kanha and Pench Tiger Reserves. It covers an area of 16,000 sq km and acts as a refuge for several other mammals such as wild dogs, sloth bear, leopard, hyena, jackal, and sambar to name a few. The Kanha-Pench Corridor also harbours gaur and is known to facilitate their movement. The presence in the corridor of wild prey such as gaur, sambar, chital can help prevent killing of cattle by tigers and thus prevent retaliatory conflict with locals.

Importance of corridors
Sub-adult male tigers are forced to move out of areas where they are born and find new territories. These dispersing sub-adult males are often the ones that manage to use a corridor and get to the adjacent protected area.

A tiger passing through a corridor forest has to confront a range of challenges such as hostile villagers, retaliatory poisoning of livestock kills, poaching of tigers and prey, electrocution by live wires, apart from road and rail traffic. The widening of railway lines and construction and widening of roads in such a corridor will result in fragmentation of the corridor and thereby make dispersal all the more difficult for tigers and other animals that use the corridor.

Such corridors are vital for the long term survival and viability of tigers as they connect smaller tiger populations (eg. Pench and Achanakmar) to larger source populations such as Kanha. Without these linkages tiger populations isolated within individual tiger reserves face the risk of extinction due to poaching and loss in genetic vigour over generations.

© WWF-India

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Change

Nearly 4.5 years and 250 odd posts later I thought it was time for some change. As you can see I’ve shifted domains. Do feel free to look around and explore. Many things have changed while some have remained the same. I hope you will like what is to come.

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