Sunil Chaudhary, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Project Tiger, Uttar Pradesh...
Q: Tell us about your stint as a forester.
After completing my M.Sc. from Shimla, I joined the Indian Forest Service in 1989 and was assigned to the Uttar Pradesh cadre where I am serving with my hard work continuously to date. I started my forest job as an Assistant Conservator of Forests and presently working as an Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Project Tiger, Uttar Pradesh. I have served in various capacities in Pauri Garhwal, Farrukhabad, Kannauj, Saharanpur, Shiwalik, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve as the Field Director and also as the Director and Advisor of the upcoming Kukrail Night Safari
Q: Habitat destruction is a major problem for wildlife conservation. What are you doing to tackle this?
Habitat loss is probably the greatest threat to Wildlife Conservation today. It is identified as a main threat to 85% of all species described in the IUCN's Red List (those species officially classified as "Threatened" and "Endangered"). Increasing food production is a major agent for the conversion of natural habitat into agricultural land. The forest loss and degradation is mostly caused by the expansion of agricultural land, intensive harvesting of timber, land diversion for non-forestry purposes. Tackling this issue would require a multi-pronged strategy at the planning and thereby implementation level. The inclusion of various mitigation strategies in the development projects would ensure sustainable development.
Q: As a result of habitat destruction, some species are under threat. Pariah kites and white-backed vultures are rare. Pink pink-headed duck of Terai has vanished. What are you doing to protect endangered species?
Wildlife Conservation requires herculean efforts at this stage and this cannot be done by any particular department or agency working in silos and requires a coordinated effort with support from the Civil Society Organisations. Our Protected areas are continuously executing various flagship programs to protect and conserve these endangered species. There is also continuous ongoing research into the various aspects of these species’ conservation thus ensuring their protection in a scientific manner. Inter Alia, Uttar Pradesh Forest Department has established the world’s first Jatayu Conservation and breeding centre for Red Headed Vulture/King Vulture established in Maharajganj.
Q: When animals foray into human territory they are termed predators. But humans encroach upon forests and even wetlands without thought. Going into animal territory practically invites mishaps. Why is action not taken against such people in case of a mishap? Why are villagers not relocated?
The process of relocation of the villages from the Protected Areas such as Tiger Reserves is a voluntary one and these villages cannot be forcefully evicted. However, with community engagement and wide stakeholder discussions, we are almost in the final stages of the relocation of village Bharthapur from the Core/Critical Tiger Habitat area of Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary in Bahraich and hopefully shall be the maiden relocation project of Uttar Pradesh within this year itself.
Q: There is much thrust on eco-tourism these days. What impact is it likely to have on wildlife?
Eco-tourism is a very niche concept that involves responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education. The principles associated with what ecotourism stands for are more than just minimizing physical, social, behavioral, and psychological impacts, ecotourism is also about building a culture of environmental respect and protection while providing positive experiences to visitors and hosts. On the host’s side, an ecotourism mindset is one generating value for local people and the industry, and they should help deliver remarkable experiences to visitors while raising their sensitivity to local environmental, political, or social issues.
Q: The count of tigers has gone up. So has the number of some other species. Your take?
This is a very positive development that speaks volumes about the professional management of Tigers and other species by the department. However, this also rings a bell to be cautious about the greater chances of human-wildlife interfaces, for which we must be prepared and we already are in the process it.
Q: Talk about an exciting or Interesting experience.
An experience very close to my heart would be the execution of the relocation of Rhinos into a second enclosure in Dudhwa during the period when I served as the Field Director, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve. It took days of meticulous planning and endless hours of hard work on the field by my team to successfully complete this project that had been pending for about 20 years. The professional satisfaction of seeing an endangered species like the Rhino go up in numbers due to an effort that was led by oneself is comparable to very few things in life.
Q: What message would you give to our readers?
Everything in nature is connected. If you remove one animal or plant it upsets the balance of nature, can change the ecosystem completely, and may cause other animals to suffer. For example, bees may seem small and insignificant, but they have a huge role to play in our ecosystem – they are pollinators. This means they are responsible for the reproduction of plants. Without bees, many plant species would go extinct, which would upset the entire food chain. One of the strongest arguments for saving endangered animals is simply that we want to. We get a lot of pleasure out of seeing and interacting with animals. Species that go extinct now are no longer around for us or future generations to see and enjoy. They can only learn about them in books and on the internet. And, that is heartbreaking. Wildlife conservation is not any particular agency’s or person’s work alone now but requires all our combined efforts.