Into the Wild
IVLP alumna Prerna Singh Bindra works to protect India’s wildlife through her journalism and conservation advocacy.
Wildlife journalist Prerna Singh Bindra has dedicated her career to the preservation of India’s wildlife and their habitats. She has brought conservation to the forefront of mainstream media by penning over 1,500 articles on nature and wildlife, sometimes pursuing investigative stories in remote forests and in markets engaged in illegal wildlife trade. Her unflinching determination to expose threats to India’s natural heritage has translated into measurable actions. Bindra’s articles helped increase the focus on the protection of wildlife corridors and nesting sites, the construction and expansion of roads inside nature reserves and enforcement of laws protecting India’s natural world. Her recently published children’s book, “When I Grow Up I Want to be a Tiger,” and her soon-to-be released book, “The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis,” are her latest contributions to wildlife advocacy. The upcoming book addresses “unprecedented threats on all fronts to our wildlife and wildlands.”
Bindra’s constant childhood companions were books by authors like Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, M. Krishnan and Salim Ali, who are well-known in the field of environmental conservation, along with a backyard menagerie of animals. “Birds, frogs, mongoose and peacocks in our garden helped develop my love of nature,” she says. She admits to even skipping school to witness peachicks hatch.
Bindra graduated with a degree in management in 1994, but within four years, “jumped stream to journalism because I couldn’t just sit back and not do anything when I saw the natural world being decimated around me.” She worked at India’s premier wildlife magazine, Sanctuary Asia, and then progressed through half a dozen newspapers and magazines, including The Asian Age, The Pioneer, The Times of India, India Today, The Week and Tehelka, trying to reach a larger audience for wildlife reporting in mainstream media.
Inevitably, she gravitated toward conservation advocacy and collaborative work with the Indian government. “When you do a story on an issue, you can’t walk away from it. You want to take it forward, follow up and ensure action,” says Bindra. As was the case when the Ministry of Tourism, taking note of her article about the blocking of natural corridors for tigers and elephants by a multitude of tourism resorts, asked her to study the impact of tourism on Corbett Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand. This eventually led to the formulation of Government of India guidelines for regulating tourism in tiger reserves.
When insurgents were reported to have destroyed communication towers and ranger stations in the Similipal Tiger Reserve in Odisha in 2009, Bindra and another conservationist, Aditya Panda, were among the first to go in. “Well, of course, we took a risk! We didn’t know what the situation would be. When we went in, we found the rest house had been burnt, and the communication tower had been destroyed. I wrote about it, and the National Tiger Conservation Authority set in motion an investigation into the situation to see what would get the tiger reserve back on track,” she says.
Known to walk unarmed in forests, Bindra feels safe there. However, despite her healthy respect for an animal’s comfort zone, she has experienced mock charges by elephants and a mating rhino, and recalls a lonely walk back to her camp in the dark hearing the sawing sound of a nearby leopard.
Bindra says her greatest learning experience and contribution is, perhaps, her work on the National Board for Wildlife, India’s apex statutory body for conservation policy regulating activities in protected wildlife areas. She was a member of the board and part of its core Standing Committee from 2010 to 2013. “We studied the impact of industrial and infrastructural projects on wildlife areas and tried to regulate those projects with grave ecological impacts—like roads through the only nesting site of flamingoes in the subcontinent—and worked to protect key wildlife areas of the critically endangered [Great Indian] bustard and hangul [Kashmir stag],” says Bindra. However, she feels, “it is the forest rangers and guards who are at the frontline of saving wildlife from poaching and other illegal activities,” and are most deserving of our respect.
India set a new standard for saving a species with the launch of the conservation program Project Tiger in 1973, which now governs 50 tiger reserves. “In a country of 1.3 billion people, we still have predators—lions, tigers, Asiatic elephants, as well as freshwater dolphins,” she notes. “But there are things one can learn or adopt from other countries, like the dedicated National Park Service in the United States.”
Bindra says her participation in the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program in 2012 gave her great exposure and insights, and left her wanting “to learn more about the U.S. national park system, its protection policies and cohesive regulation of activities within national parks.”
Hillary Hoppock is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Orinda, California.