‘Big tourism infrastructure should be out of tiger buffer areas’

George Schaller, wildlife biologist, is also a conservationist. He has not only studied prominent species such as tigers, gorillas, jaguars and pandas but is also credited with having rediscovered two animals believed extinct, the saola of Laos and the Vietnamese warty pig. Schaller, who has travelled across the globe since he was 26, remains active as ever at 82. Currently vice president of the Panthera Corporation, an American charity organisation dedicated to preserving big cats and their eco-systems, Schaller was recently in Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra, where he spoke to The Indian Express on a number of issues. Excerpts:

How do you rate India's tiger conservation effort?

I was in Kana in 1963 when tiger hunting was common. Thanks to late prime minister Indira Gandhi, a protection regimen was put in place. Today, half of the world's 3,500 tigers are in India. The tiger habitat, however, is shrinking. While some tiger reserves are well-managed, some are not so well-managed. We need to involve communities,who are key to protection and conservation. For that we need to educate them on how to co-exist with the tiger. Communities affected by man-tiger conflict must be quickly compensated for losses suffered. The community must be connected to any policy initiatives. And the model of conservation that the likes of Ulhas Karanth have worked out in Western Ghats is also very promising. I also feel the Indian government's move to have a Tiger Protection Force is very good.

Is there too much focus on the tiger alone? Do we need to focus on other animals too?

The tiger, being the most beautiful and awesome animal, invites the greatest attention. That's why it also attracts funds. The general understanding is if the tiger is protected, other animals will be automatically protected. The effort should be for better landscape management rather than special efforts for specific species. Protect the forest first. Unfortunately, forests are dwindling in India.

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