Tanmoy Ghosh: Transforming poachers to protectors

Namaskar, I am Tanmoy from West Bengal, from a very remote village called Belon, where nobody kills any snake, any birds, or any jungle cats. And they have not used any chemical pestisides for last 17 years. The full ecosystem is full of life. The paddy field ecosystem, the tree… everything. But why should we save a wild snake like a cobra, or crocodile like this one esturine crocodile? Which can be a potential threat for human life and livelihood. If there is no termite on earth from tomorrow, then there will be no forest and no human beings. How? Have you ever been to these kind of forests? I mean very old undisturbed forests like this one. A subtropical rainforest, we get these kind of trees. These trees are so huge that sometimes they are 200 feet long, and we need at least 10 people to hold it. When these trees die naturally, they just stay here like this. They occupy the forest floor. If there is no termite or other insects, then these trees will remain in these forest floors for thousands and thousands and thousands of years … Nobody to destroy these. Termites have cellulose digesting bacteria in their intestine, so they can decompose this whole plant within few years, and make space for new seedlings. So, recreating the sources of food, water, oxygen, medicine again. But if there is a animal, there is conflict like this one. A wild snake in the middle of a village. How it happens? Sometimes it is because of ignorance. And sometimes people just believe in their inherent right to kill the animals for safety and food. So, we never tell the people that “, Okay stop killing!” We never tell a hunter “, Ok. Stop Killing from tomorrow!” Because if I say him that from tomorrow you are not killing anything, then what he will eat from tomorrow? He has not learned anything from his forefathers. For thousands of years, they are doing just that thing. We take a different approach. We tell them what a particular ecological services we get from that animal, ..from that particular animal. Most of the time in terms of money. Because people know the language of money very well. In my village, no body kills any snake because we told them, that snake eats rats and mice in their paddy fields and saves the crops. And no body kills any bats or birds because, we told them that bat is a seed dispersal medium. So, a bat like this one, Fruit Bat, can plant up to 100 trees in its lifetime of only 15 years. And those trees become matured into all our fruit trees. We told them the stories about Pipistrelle, small bats called Pipistrelle, which eat almost 1200 mosquitos per hour. People saved it. But it was very difficult for us to save jungle cats because jungle cats eat poultry birds. It has just killed one duck from a villager’s house. I got it near the back if his house. So, these jungle cats eat poultry birds which is directly involved with the livelihood. And at that time there was no bio-economical study about these jungle cats. So, we studied for 3 years inside the field, nights after nights. And the result was spectacular. A jungle cat can save up to 900 rupees of crops by killing rats and mice in the paddy field. And during these 8 months, it kills only 2 poultry birds which costs around 300 to 400 rupees. So, saving a jungle cat means saving 500 rupees in every 8 months. Villagers stopped killing jungle cats. And not only that, sometimes people come from outside to kill these jungle cats, some tribal people, they stop them also. This is a Gharial. Gharial is a critically endangered crocodile. Only 200 living in the wild. So, each and every Ghadiyaal is important. Probably we will not see it after 25 years or something like that. I re-discovered a whole new population in lower Ganges. It was another 200. So, it was a global boost up of its population. But what was happening, in one village, people were very much afraid of the crocodile there. And they wanted to kill it because they were afraid that these crocodiles may eat their babies. We went there, talked to these people, and told them this Gariyal is not a man-eater, it’s a fish-eater. And what happens, when it is there, they prefer to eat carnivorous fishes, like different kinds of Catfishes. So, if Gariyal is there, they eat the Catfish. So, the commercial costly fishes like Hilsa, like Prawn, Topse, Parse, these kind of commercial costly fishes increases. So, fishermen get more and more commercial fishes, and costly fishes in their fishing net, and their income increases. People realize the fact that — Oh my god, this Gharial was basking there for 4 months, and in last two months we started getting more and more prawns. So, people realized that thing, and then they stopped killing this Gharial. So, within just few meetings it happened. Sometimes we work in some pristine forest lands like this one. In north-eastern India, forest is really really pristine. It is like a paradise on earth. But heavily hunted. Here we took a different strategy. Here we tell them, we motivate those hunters to become a wildlife guide, and to develop a responsible Eco-tourism there. We tell them “, If you kill a bird then you may get 500 gram meat for the day, but if you can save the bird, then you can get enough money to buy 2 Kilo of meat every day, by showing the same bird again and again and again… to your tourist. ” So, they at first, they didn’t trust us. Whenever you go, they don’t trust us. But finally they realized “, Yes, It has happened and it can be done.” So, they stopped that thing. I want to give you 2 examples. One is from Ultapani. It is like Amazon, in India. In Ultapani, it was a World Heritage Site once upon a time, and then it became ‘World Heritage Site in Danger,’ because during Bodoland Movement and insurgency, people there were killing lots of wild animals. They were making money from destroying the forest resources. They have killed almost all rhinos. They have killed almost all tigers there, and tuskers there. It was very much painful for us. A World Heritage Site had become a World Heritage Site in Danger. Then, this is a Golden Langur. Only 450 living in the wild. So, in Ultapani you get them, they are killing these things also. I started talking to those so called poachers. Now they are protectors of the forests. They are not killing anything. Their only means of income is tourism there. This is during the training session, and from UNESCO last year, it has gained its World Heritage Site status again. And now I want to tell you another story from Rangloom. Rangloom is one of the remotest part of India. It’s in north-east part of India near Myanmar border. There are no modern facilities. I mean no electricity, no school, no hospital, no phone — nothing. These people, they are happy. They kill everything. They kill mammal like these. This is one of the rarest porcupines on Earth. This is Blast Tail porcupine. Only few people have seen it. They kill little birds like this, they kill insects, small mammals to bears and elephants. Everything. So, here I have taken a different strategy. I wanted to build up their pride feeling about their land and about their animals. So I started showing them the pictures I had taken during my field studies. They were happy to see this animals .Then it was my same strategy with the same old conservation and tourism related words, so I poison them with all these bad words, and finally the whole village decided not to kill any wild animals. Except four: Khaleej Pheasant, Barking deer, Sambhar deer, and wild boar because they were in plenty. Next time I will try to stop them from killing female and baby animals. All these forest people and these villages, they know very well about the wild animal behavior. But what happens you know, they can’t connect their knowledge. I mean, they know very well that insect eat crops, and they know very well that birds eat insects. But they can’t connect that saving birds means saving crops. Okay? So I just connect them. And that happens. 60% wild animals live outside the protected area, near our villages, near our cities. So, involving all these local people, and educating for conservation is really crucial for us. Mother Earth can support only 2.5 billion people, and now we are 7.5 billion almost. So, 5 billion extra people means a huge pressure on this planet with limited resources. So, now what we have to do? We have to plan something, which we can do in a sustainable way, and we do not have much time also. Like nowadays, the present rate of extinction is 4 species in every 30 minutes. We don’t have time. Let us work together, in war basis emergency, so that we can live on the planet for another thousand years maybe. That’s all. Thanks a lot.

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