In India and barring some exceptions globally, buffer zone management and corridor conservation are considered as the most critical and unfortunately weakest links in conservation. It is because of relatively less engagement of the proponents of conservation with the communities living and operating in these important landscapes. This aspect of conservation-engaging communities positively in conservation - is exactly the focus of this project in Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary in India.
The Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary (BWS) is one of the few protected areas in the north Western Ghats– part of a global biodiversity hotspot. The Western Ghats is a mountain range that runs parallel to the entire western coast of peninsular India. South westerly winds bring heavy rainfall in this region from June to October. The unique biogeography of the region therefore supports an immense amount of biodiversity – 1700 plant and 350 animals endemic to the region. Forest types range from dry deciduous to evergreen. The BWS is a small PA 130 sq.km in area and supports two major forest types including seasonal cloud montane forests. The BWS is composed of forest fragments of various sizes interspersed with human habitation. A very peculiar feature of this Wildlife sanctuary is that it is also a very well known pilgrimage destination and about half a million tourists visit this place every year. This dual nature of the relationship between BWS and man has brought about its own set of challenges.
AERF and DICE is trying to address this crucial perception gap by making conservation remunerative to local people in the North Western Ghats through the Darwin Initiative since 2013. On the solid foundation of Conservation Agreements on privately owned forest lands, AERF started promoting forest-based enterprise through innovative mechanisms like FairWild certification of wild medicinal plants. Moreover, the Roadblocks to on-ground conservation in BWS: General hatred and negative attitude towards conservation among the community created through involuntary restrictions as regards to access and use of natural resources imposed by the forest department. Incentive based environmentally insensitive development activities carried out for ages by development NGOs in the region.
The Need of the hour: Changing behaviour to sustainable utilization needs to make economic sense for resource users in the BWS.
Of forest land under conservation agreements
Planted for restoration of degraded private land.
Out of the 18 villagers trained for the purpose
Turnover for the sales kiosk during festival period
Visted jungle lodge at Kondhwal
Strategy Formulation and Implementation
A Novel approach for Natural Resource Management
In order to bring about the much needed change in behaviour among the communities affected by conservation, the strategy of 'Conservation Agreements' was used.
Conservation agreement is one such strategy wherein the communities dependent on natural resources are given incentives for forgoing the benefits of unsustainable utilization (logging, overharvesting, overgrazing) and for actively participating in conserving the habitats.
Management of Human- Wildlife co-existence
Introduced new innovative, low cost and practically viable techniques, such as low Cost Wire Fence, LED Torches etc.
Conducted group discussions and demonstration and familiarisation of techniques.
Promoted LED torches by providing door to door service and made available at lowest cost of Rs. 300 against retail price of Rs. 315. People were made aware about applying for the crop compensation against losses incurred by crop raiding by wild pigs. They were provided with the ready application format.
Tackling unsustainable tourism
It is estimated that about half a million tourists visit Bhimashankar as a pilgrimage destination each year. Needless to say, it is important to create a sustainable tourism mechanism, especially considering that it is also a Wildlife sanctuary and an Important Bird Area. This will provide an excellent opportunity to local community especially youth to earn a decent and sustainable livelihood from tourism.
The strategy is to 'Build capacity of the local youth and tourists for promoting sustainable tourism'. For this purpose, AERF gave guide-training to the local youth and also developed a nature-based tourism initiative in Kondhwal village. AERF has also developed a sales kiosk to generate revenue during religious festivals through sale of information dissemination materials and souvenirs.
The protected area approach has always faced serious challenges when it involved dealing with issues such as access to natural resources, sustainable management of buffer zones and benefit sharing mechanism for distribution of revenue generated from tourism at such locations. Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary adds one more dimension to this already complex situation – religious tourism. The initiatives and activities carried out by CLP team focussed on providing a tangible solution which is sustainable and builds on assets and strengths of local communities. It has been quite an interesting and worthy experience for the CLP team. It can be said that the outcomes of the project have been encouraging and the learnings are definitely useful for similar situations around the world. The success of the BWLS Conservation Agreement model has already been replicated in the buffer zone of Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary specifically in village Talsar.