Fulbright scholar and Indian Forest Service officer Samir Sinha talks about the conservation efforts in U.S. and Indian national parks.
Wildlife and its conservation have always been a passion for Samir Sinha, a member of the Indian Forest Service (IFS) who serves as the additional principal chief conservator of forests, Uttarakhand, and chief executive officer of Uttarakhand CAMPA (Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority).
Sinha was the director of Corbett Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand from 2013 to 2016. He visited Colorado State University in Fort Collins as part of the 2013 Fulbright-Nehru Environmental Leadership Program, administered by the United States-India Educational Foundation (USIEF).
Excerpts from an interview.
Please tell us about your project at Colorado State University.
Illegal wildlife trade is globally acknowledged as a form of transnational organized crime. Over the past years, this has become more widespread, presenting a serious threat to biodiversity across the globe. While the direct threat of loss of endangered species is somewhat acknowledged today, what are less known are the economic, social and public health impacts of such illegal trade, which may introduce harmful, alien species that could disrupt the ecosystem. Illegal wildlife trade can also facilitate the entry and spread of animal-borne diseases.
My study looked at policy and legal instruments related to regulation of wildlife trade and their implementation at the ground level. I also looked at the various experiences in the United States regarding the implementation of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and what we could learn from them to improve our responses to the growing challenge of illicit wildlife trade.
How was your experience at the university?
I had a wonderful time at Colorado State University. The faculty members at Fort Collins went out of their way to make my stay rewarding in every possible way. Professor Barry Noon of the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology at the university took keen interest in my work, and shared his vast knowledge and passion for conservation.
I also spent time with officials of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife division and Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and interacted with colleagues to share experiences on wildlife conservation.
Did this interaction help you expand your knowledge and work back home?
Certainly. While the cultural and social contexts may be different, the challenges that biodiversity conservationists face across the world are similar. A lot of my time was spent in the field with fellow professionals. I was also invited to make presentations at various seminars, and held a few classroom sessions to share my experiences on tiger conservation.
This sharing of experiences and understanding of the legal and policy frameworks within which such processes operate have helped me enormously in appreciating our own challenges in India and South Asia, and proved useful in planning future strategies.
One experience that stands out for me was visiting a local school and delivering a talk to 3-year-olds on the magic of wilderness and wild animals.
How is poaching, a serious problem in many national parks in India, tackled at Corbett Tiger Reserve?
Poaching continues to be a very significant and potent threat to the conservation of species, not just in India, but globally. Corbett Tiger Reserve is home to a large number of highly endangered species, including tigers and elephants. It is also the only tiger reserve in India to hold over 200 tigers. So, the threat from poaching is real.
There is a multipronged strategy to deal with such threats, where a proactive foot-patrolling regime, supported by modern monitoring tools, is in place. Sniffer dogs carry out random searches along its boundaries.
However, the real key to the safety of a rich wildlife area such as Corbett, with large, dispersing populations of wildlife, lies outside the reserve boundaries. We work closely with other field units and agencies situated in our immediate vicinity to mount a cohesive and comprehensive collective response. This is a huge all-year-round effort, where the criminal always tries to get lucky at any chosen time, while we have to be lucky each day, every day.
Ranjita Biswas is a Kolkata-based journalist. She also translates fiction and writes short stories.