Sunday, March 22, 2015

Tadoba; not just tigers, a lot more!

It’s not what great shot you capture of a tiger in the forest but it’s whether you enjoyed those moments is what matters most... Sanjay

Its mid march morning & the famous heat of tadoba is yet to start, as soon my gypsy entered from moharli gate we hear a barking dear call on jamunzari side & took the road taking turns through haze of bamboos, all four pairs of eyes scanning the thickset around for yellow & black strips which gets camouflaged very perfectly in the forest & suddenly saw a black mass was walking ahead! Hearing the gypsy tires it stopped & turned around; my breath too stopped for a while, as its full grown male sloth bear! Sticking to their weird behavior pattern the sloth bear instead following his track turned around 180 degrees & started walking towards us, a head on shot of male sloth bear was beyond my dreams! Started the click click of camera shutter matching to my heart beat speed; my tadoba trip has started with a bang as what better you can expect when something you haven’t even dreamed has happened! But then tadoba forest always has something first time not for me but for every one, all we have to do is a bit patient & alert to grab it when it comes! The next moment was like making the sloth bear sighting nothing & it came soon!

Friends I am visiting forests since last many years but it hasn’t stopped throwing surprises at me! At pandharpauni, tadoba we were as usual waiting to see the outcome of a call, a unusual chirping rather painful shrill caught our attention; it was coming from a small piece of grass behind us & two jungle crows were fighting over a tiny object which seems to be the origin of the sound! A closer look from the lens told me that its unique drama happening & we focus all our attention to the crows; it was a small bat, I couldn’t identify the specie of bat , was being eaten alive by the crows & the poor chap was making his last efforts of escape which couldn’t happen as jungle crows are devilish predators with their sharp beak! Even the guide said in his fifteen years of forest roaming, he too was seeing such scenes first time, a bat being eaten alive by crows! Cruel it was but then its nature, all we can do is admire it the way it comes to us! All this wasn’t enough so the forest threw one more & real big surprise to us!

Our gypsy was en-route from moharli range  to kolsa range & suddenly driver slowed down seeing a full grown bison laying down on road, it didn’t took us even a sec to realize who has killed it! One lone gypsy standing opposite side frantically gave us lights means the killer is nearby & then a tigress came in frame; what followed was a marathon race of eating the prey as well her full efforts to pull the kill in thickset along the road, so has it will be hidden from eyes of scavengers but it was too heavy for her! For next thirty minutes it was camera shutter sound click click, in pin drop silence, the entire show was dream for any wild life lover though surely not for the poor bison which lay there with lifeless eyes! That’s what tadoba forest is for a wild lifer, making the dreams come true, one need to be ready to see them! Vikram Potdar my friend & ace photographer was with me, who is a far better photographer than me & he too was thrilled with the scene! What is more important is there were three gypsy’s standing opposite side, I could have avoided them in my frame of camera but I deliberately had them in few frames so as let people know that it’s not only professional photographers who gets such scenes but even common first time visitors also can be witness to such memorable sights in forests. Ultimately forest is everybody’s & not of some privileged visitors!

This is what made me to use my own quote to start the sharing as what we see & experience in forest is something no camera can catch & it’s those moments when the time just stops around us & we get engrossed in the scene happening in front of us, that’s the magic I call forest! Well that way each of the trip is full with many such stories & those of us who have visited the forest must have similar experiences yet each of them is different. When I post my snaps on social media like Face Book, there are comments like how lucky I was or how they missed such scenes, well no one is unlucky in forest. All I will say is some are more lucky & again each such moment is different & unique in its own way, what’s important is we need to understand forest is not just tiger but a lot more & this is what Tadoba teaches us!

To give some background before further sharing, I was in Tadoba with my world class photographer friend Vikram Potdar on a specific purpose & it was to promote the Tadoba! Agreed Tadoba is famous enough already but what we have observed is most of the tourists visit tadoba, see tiger, click snaps, celebrate their tiger sighting & leave, that’s all! What we feel & discussed with officers who are playing key role in protecting tadoba is let the visitor understand the real tadoba & its importance to entire society as well what individuals’ responsibility towards the forests like tadoba is. And for that to put forward the tadoba the way it is, is most important. What has triggered this thought is during my last visit a young officer Gajendra Narvne told us about the story of a guard who has been attacked by sloth bears & was seriously injured & the expense for his treatment was huge. So I casually asked why this hasn’t been put forward to people who visit tadoba as they can surely help for such cause & this triggered of the concept as right now there is no link between tadoba & why tadoba any forest in State & the tourists. Once a tourist left the gates of forest & heads to his concrete city life he forgets everything about forest & the joy it has given to him. If we could by some way be in touch with every tourist then not only they will be able to help the forest issues but they will try to conserve the forests in every possible way around them, was the essence of the discussion. So we discussed these issues in front of senior officers like Mr. Garad, Field Director, Mr. Kalskar  as well Mr. Moi Pokkim, APCCF which in short words is boss of all forests in eastern Maharashtra & they have taken it positively asking us to work on the details of the concept. Our trip inside tadoba was outcome of these discussions as best way to know a forest is to be in it!

In four days we were moving through different zones of the tadoba forest clicking flora & fauna as well topography, habitat & people who are associated with tadoba. We spoke to every segment that is in some way or other associated with tadoba. To maintain a forest of size of tadoba is huge job & needs lots of infrastructure which includes making roads for the tourists too welfare of all the ground level staff such as living arrangements inside forest for guards & forest labors & all this requires money. Agreed there is provision in Govt for all these works but then it should be made available at proper hands & in proper time. What’s happening is somewhere some link is missing between the ground level working team & superior bosses, is what we realized after speaking to many people in forest. Each organization has communication problems amongst the hierarchy but when the organization is forest, the disparity between the living conditions is too much. As I always say, to visit forest in a safe gypsy, click snaps & get back to our safe & comfortable abode to relax is very easy job but to live inside these forests twenty four hours that too three sixty five days in extreme weather where mercury rises to 48 degrees & heavy rains as well cold, then you start disliking the same forests. That’s why in lower cadre postings inside tadoba are considered as punishment is what they spoke to us resulting too much of shuffling at ground level staff. This shows a lacuna in the system as if we want to promote tadoba in front of the world then these things should be straighten up first.  And then like the injured guards story in bear attack there are so many ways outer society can join the hands to help these people who are actually protecting these forests for us! Many people are ready to help/assist forest related issues but if we ask them to pay to govt directly for that, they won’t as a bitter truth is common man don’t believe govt. But if we ask them to pay directly to the services fort forest then they do as they can see the actual result coming out of their money. Like kolsa range needs bore well with solar pump, so we can finalize the agency & let people directly pay to the vendors & get the job done under forest department’s supervision. We can think of a name board mentioning the same at bore well to encourage such donations. Recently in kanha forest we have donated safety shoes to forest labors in kanha, such many activities can be funded from society. This is one more reason we need to market tadoba in front of visitors in proper way!
Actually marketing won’t be a proper term but making people know what real Tadoba is the essence what we wanted to put forward. As right now it’s popular as a tiger land but is it all? Every year thousands of people come, click tiger snaps & went back happily in their concrete jungle & forget tadoba soon!
What we need to do is not only they come back again to tadoba but remains in touch for ever with tadoba. This is for those who have visited tadoba & then those who haven’t ever visited, so we need to make tadoba first of their list of travel plan. We can take tadoba as pilot project & then the pattern can follow for boar, pench, melghat & many more in State forest! Here is what we have proposed on a primary level…

First of all make a separate wing of just two good personnel who are internet & computer savvy & important is a thrust fro top level like Garda sir & Pokkim sir, which is there already. Second is act fast with a proper plan in place. Few tips can be helpful which I am sharing here…

1.    Make a booklet of tadoba, with visuals as well write-up which will make people understand tadoba's importance for the world we live in & not just for tigers. They should know places like tadoba are natural gifts to human mankind but its needs far more than just salaried persons than to preserve this god gift. The booklet will cover messages from all senior forest officers as well illustrate infrastructure tadoba needs to survive & every member’s contribution for that. It will be in very simple language as well illustrations & then images by vikram. This booklet people will carry as souvenir while going back from tadoba & we will make it part of park fees as well schemes like making it free of cost is 3 safaris or more! We will also make one exclusive booklet which we can make available for sale at gate. This exclusive one will be even revenue generating also for the park.

2.  We have all the data of email addresses of people visiting tadoba. Let’s make a group on Gmail & then we can make an e calendar which will be sent to all these people every month featuring best image of that month in the park as well things happening in tadoba. This will be e calendar as well e news letter. Director & other people also can have their inputs here along with social/welfare activities we conduct. Difficulties we face & how we overcome them in conservation. It will be short but to the point.  This will make the visitors in touch always as now with smart phones mostly everybody is having mail access anywhere. Sending a link of one such e calendar of an ngo..

3.  We can also share what happened in tadoba during this month in tadoba on social front as well appeal people what & how they can contribute to the park. As this is important, many people will like to support but they don’t feel confident about their money getting utilized properly. By keeping in touch & updating them about our activities they will feel confident that their money/help is in right hands!

4.  We will make a 40 minutes presentation about functioning of tadoba & highlights of the forest here & its importance for the State, Country & World! It has to be an absolute art piece with lots of visual slides, messages from team tadoba & statistics of flora & fauna as well the challenges park faces to maintain the eco system. We will then send a team of two people in Metros & display the same in schools, colleges. That will be making people know about tadoba insight especially the younger genre. We will start from Pune for trial run & then with help of wild life wardens at each district & magazines’ like Sanctuary Asia’s net work along with kirloskar foundation type ngo's, to reach out to all the major cities in country.

5.  We will make the presentation to leading tours & travels companies like Kesri, Veena World & appeal them to join hands to promote tadoba at world stage through their tourists’ as well international network.
A lot can be done but for that we need to have a good data visual as well written form as well making the same available & being in touch with the visitors is what key. Park is already popular now we need to make people understand the efforts of people behind it as well take it to the next level in minds of every tourist as well citizen of the State first & then country!

6.  Making FB page of tadoba, where people can share their experiences as well images & contributions to tadoba!

7. We can have two categories of guides at gate & guides are link between the forest & the tourists. And with lots of foreigners as well people from non Hindi states visiting in more numbers to tadoba, its high time we provide them with guides who are good at English. We can pay these guides at higher rates & charge the clients so. All over the world its standard practices i.e. to have special languages speaking guides, especially where tourists visit more & language is a problem.  This will also make more & more local boys to get educated & English literate for getting better wages!

8. We can think of short trips of one & half hours covering main road from moharli gate to tadoba lake & en-route telia back. This will be for school kids & via canter bus at very affordable rate & such trips can be planned all day long except the noon time when the park is closed. This will make more & more school kids can see the tadoba as in future these kids are going to be protectors of forests.

9. There has to be an interactive interpretation center with good toilet blocks at the gate. This centre will have space where visitors’ as well professional photographers’ images will be displayed. It will also have display of local village life information with snaps. An open theater with self displaying movies related to tadoba also is a must.

10. A neglected issue especially about tadoba is hygiene of the village moharli, as all the morning rituals are being done in open & along the main road making the entry to park extremely dirty which surely isn’t making any good to the image of an international tourists spot. Same is about the garbage generated around the park as all is being dumped along the road side low laying land & is very harmful for the park biodiversity.

Above are some of very basic things & once we start working on these lines finer issues which will evolve in the process can be dealt with. What is important is the forest should reach out to the people as there are two types of people , one is who has visited forests especially reserved forests like tadoba & other is who haven’t seen forest ever in their life. Again in first category, there are who haven’t seen the tiger in forest & other is who has seen a tiger. It’s easy to make people understand about their responsibilities who has seen a tiger as the specie has that power but aim should be more & more people should visit forests & develop sense of responsibility towards preserving them. Tiger is like brand ambassador of tadoba but there is lot more beyond the tiger in tadoba. Right from smallest of birds too butterflies too color changing ghost tree, forest is full of life & understanding this side of forest gives new vision to us while we look around! What tadoba should give the tourists is not just joy of tiger sighting but a sense of belonging to the nature as once its developed then each of us will be ambassador of the forest & what better thing than this can happen to the tigers of tadoba!

At ending note sharing something very personal about my tadoba visit, at the gate there stood a canter i.e. an open bus in which tourists moves in the forest & on that bus poster of a snarling tigress was put! It looked extremely familiar & then I realize it’s been clicked by me only! Well how one counts happiness? Simple, one don’t count it as it’s not just some figure which you can measure on any scale but it’s a feeling which one has to feel by oneself! Was very happy to see that image of a tigress I have clicked was being displayed on a bus for tourists at tadoba! Such small things gives us great joy & I think that’s why we must keep doing small things however foolish they might look & nurture whatever we like to do & outcome is sheer joy! I think thats best gift places like tadoba gives us & for that one needs to be there!

Sanjay Deshpande

Sanjeevani Dev.

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