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Holistic Approach to Save Tigers
The Corbett Foundation trains villagers close to forest reserves on new skills, helping them reduce dependence on forest resources

BY PANCHALEE THAKUR

Villagers near Kaziranga working on their weaving skills as part of Pukaar training. Handlooms called taat-xaal are a common sight outside people’s homes in Assam, where women spend hours weaving gamosa (traditional towel) and mekhala sador (the traditional dress of Assamese women)

In 2015, when the Government of India announced that the tiger population in India surged 58 percent in seven years, it was a moment to cheer the efforts put in over the past two decades towards tiger conservation. It was also a moment to take stock of the factors that worked in favor of the big cat and those that needed a relook. A key success factor for tiger conservation has been the participation of communities that live close to tiger reserves and have traditionally been dependent on the forest for their livelihood.

Ironically, more tigers were killed by poachers in the first four months of 2016 than the entire year of 2015. This year till July, the number of poaching related tiger deaths recorded was 31. These sobering statistics by the Wildlife Protection Society of India prove that India needs a holistic approach towards tiger conservation where short-term methods of improved surveillance and intelligence gathering must be complemented by long-term efforts of community participation.

One such project is Pukaar, run by The Corbett Foundation (TCF), a non-profit, non-government organization. Pukaar provides training on alternate sources of livelihood to forest-dwelling and forest-dependent communities in four prominent wildlife protected areas in the country. Launched in July 2012, with the support of Axis Bank Foundation, Pukaar has reached 446 villages and benefitted 2,522 people till February 2016.

Tiger Conservation in India
According to the latest figures, based on a tiger census carried out in 2014, India has 2,226 tigers in the wild, constituting over 70 percent of the world’s tiger population. The country has 49 tiger reserves and has spent more money on saving this magnificent endangered beast than any other wildlife species. Two of the biggest challenges in protecting tigers are depleting habitat and poaching of tigers to meet the demand for tiger parts from other Asian countries.


Villagers trying their hand at making cane furniture under the guidance of Pukaar trainers
All the tiger reserves together occupy just over two percent of the country’s total geographical area. Conflicts often arise between tigers and villagers who live on the fringes of these reserves, and compete for the same space and resources. It is estimated that there are over 400 million forest-dependent people in India.

“Local communities such as the Gujjar, Baiga, and Gond have for generations been sharing their habitat with tigers and other wild animals. No one knows and understands wildlife and animal habits better than these communities. Their knowledge about forests and wildlife has often been misused by poaching gangs and timber mafias. Due to the lack of basic education and alternate sources of livelihoods, they are easily lured into such activities,” TCF director Kedar Gore said.

The Genesis of Pukaar
TCF launched Pukaar with the primary goal of providing vocational training and encouraging a sustainable and environmentfriendly lifestyle with minimum dependence on forest resources and an adverse impact on wildlife. The foundation works with forest-dependent communities and tribes who live close to the protected areas in Corbett in Uttarakhand, Kanha and Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh, and Kaziranga in Assam.

It is a five-year long project that will come to an end in June 2017.


Pukaar beneficiaries learning how to make bags
The project, with a budget of over Rs. 1.4 crore, has been funded by Axis Bank Foundation. The budget is strictly monitored by the sponsor and expenses are on track.

“TCF has been working in Corbett since 1994, Kanha and Bandhavgarh since 2010, and Kaziranga since 2013. Through our work with the villagers, we realized the need for an intensive sustainable livelihood program to prevent human-wildlife conflict,” said Mr. Gore.

Once the idea was firmed up, TCF conducted village-level meetings in which it involved village panchayats and ecodevelopment committees. It conducted a survey to obtain baseline data about potential beneficiaries and training components. After launching Pukaar, TCF had to work with villagers to convince them that these trainings could change their lives.

“We held street corner meetings, networking events, and meetings with gram pradhans (village head), schools teachers, local members of legislative assemblies, and forest officials to create awareness about Pukaar,” added Mr. Gore.

The next step was selection of trainees to ensure sustainability of the project. Some of the selection criteria for Pukaar training are unemployed men or women in the age group of 18-40, interest in self-employment or wage employment, having some knowledge of the area in which he/she will receive training, and early school or college drop-outs.

So far, TCF has been meeting the annual target of 710 beneficiaries. Of these, 61 percent are women, who have received training in vocation and livelihood skills from a selection of 30-odd skills such as basic hospitality, sewing and tailoring, beauty care, mobile and computer repair, soft toys making, sustainable agriculture, and nature guide. More than 80 percent of them have found jobs or have started their own entrepreneurship venture. A total of 50 self-help groups have been formed that provide a modest, additional source of income by engaging the community in vocational activities.

Mr. Gore expects another 710 people to get training between July 2016 and June 2017, thus taking the total number of beneficiaries by the end of the project to 3,550.

Implementation Steps

Pukaar beneficiaries trying their hand at candle making
The following measures played a critical role in the successful implementation of the project:


Project Monitoring
“Close monitoring, follow ups, and evaluation have been extremely important for the success of this project. We conduct regular field visits and home visits, meet self-help groups, and organize monthly meetings between the project team and the supervising authority to discuss the project’s progress,” said Mr. Gore.

The project’s progress is documented through reports and recording of data from social and financial audits, and follow-up activities. The monthly progress report details the trainings conducted in a month, the list of trainees, documents the success stories, and the trainings planned in the near future. A copy of the monthly report goes to the project sponsor, Axis Bank Foundation.


Young, unemployed men receiving training in car and motorcycle repairs
Besides this, TCF prepares quarterly and half-yearly reports that updates expenditure incurred on trainings and associated programs. The funding agency also makes yearly site visits to training locations.

The success of Pukaar led TCF to win the TOFT-Sanctuary Wildlife Tourism Award for the best Wildlife Tourism Related Community Initiative of the Year 2014 and the Kirloskar Vasundhara Mitra Award 2015. TCF also received a Certificate of Merit 2016 at the World CSR Congress held in Mumbai.

“Pukaar has enabled forest-dwelling and forest-dependent communities to lead a sustainable lifestyle in harmony with nature. They can now opt for non-forest dependent sources of income. The story of Pukaar is a story of change in the lives of these communities,” remarked Mr. Gore.

He hopes to see the project scaled up and replicated in other regions that face similar issues of conflict between wildlife and forest-dependent village communities in India.

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