email a friend iconprinter friendly iconThe War on India's Tigers
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I travel to Sariska and talk to the new deputy conservator of forests, Sunayan Sharma. “The working conditions in the forest are tough,” he admits. “There’s no doctor. No one can keep his family here. There’s not enough petrol. To do the job, the frontline staff needs to be young.” The average age of the forest service’s 3,500 officers and 150,000 staff nationwide is 50. There’s been almost no fresh recruitment in the past 20 years. As for making Sariska inviolate for tigers, Sharma has so far relocated just one of 14 villages. “It’s a process,” he says. “You’re moving people, not luggage.”

It’s possible that if India had a federal agency to deal with wildlife—like the Fish and Wildlife Service in the U.S.—it could more effectively make and implement coordinated decisions about tigers. But it doesn’t. “Seventeen state governments decide what to do with tigers,” says Valmik Thapar, the author of 14 books on tigers. “There’s no coordination. We have a mess on our hands, the scale of which is indescribable.”

Rajesh Gopal, the head of India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority, says that Indian states have agreed to work with the federal government. But that remains to be seen. Federal and state officials can’t even agree on how to judge Khandal’s contribution to tiger conservation in India. “Khandal has done a wonderful job with the Moghiya children,” Gopal says. “He has also helped in busting poaching gangs. Such contributions from committed people are needed at this critical juncture.” But when I ask Ramesh Mehrotra, chief wildlife warden for the state of Rajasthan, about Khandal, he dismisses him completely, saying this: “We have confidential information that Khandal is smuggling snakes out of the park and selling them in Bombay.” He offers no proof of these allegations.

While wildlife officials continue to bicker, the tigers themselves face an increasingly bleak future. “India has 1.2 billion people,” says Thapar. “The tiger population will settle down to between 500 and 700 tigers in six landscapes, if we’re successful. We need to seal off those landscapes. We need a federal force of a thousand armed men. Coexistence between tigers and people is over.”

When Khandal wants to relax, or rather, try to relax, he takes his friends to a little restaurant on the Banas River near Ranthambhore’s northern boundary. Really, it’s just a lean-to made of sticks with a small courtyard, standing all by itself in the middle of nowhere on the sandy floodplain. We’re sitting in plastic chairs in the sand, watching a crocodile swim by as the sun, red and glowing, sinks behind the scrub-covered ridge just over the river. Three cooks are preparing a treat for us, the classic Rajasthani dish, dal batti churma, over an open fire.

It would be a perfect scene except that Khandal has brought along one of his Moghiya informants, and the guy won’t stop complaining about money. He’s a former gang leader and the killer of four tigers, but he’s a decent informant, so Khandal keeps him around, paying him bit by bit. The informant’s brother and son have also poached in the past, and Khandal could nail them at any time. But he pays them, too, for information. Khandal has busted 44 poachers since his first raid in 2005, and he’s got sources spread across two states. He’s learned that some people you bust and some you don’t. Some are worth paying and some, not so much. The calculus can be dizzying.

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  • Life of this man is really worth meaning
  • This is a great article. I have heard a lot about Dharmendra Khandal and his efforts to save tigers …
  • every park in this country should have an independent team working on the lines of Dharm but this is…
  • Being a huge wildlife the Jungle calls me every few months . I have seen tigers in Sariska ,Ranthamb…
  • Being a huge wildlife the Jungle calls me every few months . I have seen tigers in Sariska ,Ranthamb…
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