India is rich heritage of biologically diverse habitats and species is at risk. Over exploitation of our ecosystems has led to deteriorating ecological services with many species sliding towards decline and extinction. India’s race towards modernity and economic development against a backdrop of crippling population pressures and widespread poverty has significantly influenced the rapid loss of species and ecosystems. This well-timed book critically analyses prevailing conservation paradigms to determine what went wrong, why, and what it will take to tackle chronic implementation flaws and achieve conservation in India. In the first chapter, the author uses the case of the Sariska Tiger Reserve to trace the socio-economic and political processes that led to its status as an ‘exclusive’ preserve in the early twentieth century to its recent demise as a prime tiger reserve. Łe author analyses in excruciating detail, the micro-level processes defining inefficient PA management following the disappearance of the tiger from Sariska. Rigorous data and logical inference is used to show how the misplaced emphasis on local forest dependency ignored the complex historical legacy of commercial forest use. The rush to create ‘people-free’ zones within the reserve was thus not only poorly conceived but shoddy implementation of the relocation process seems to have achieved little for conservation.

In the subsequent chapters, the author elaborates on why these very same issues-village displacement, natural resource use and PA management have largely failed to stall the spiralling loss of biodiversity in the country. Łe second chapter outlines how intellectual wildlife and natural resource policies have resulted in faulty planning processes and inadequate relocation packages that have doomed several village displacement programs to failure. Focusing entirely on monetary compensation and land allotment, these programs have largely ignored important issues such as skill development, social adjustment and establishment of relevant infrastructure.

Reconciling human demands on India’s diminishing wild areas with the protection of wild species is a pressing need. Yet, there is an unfortunate lack of relevant, multi-disciplinary research that can inform management effectively.  Łe third chapter dissects this problem by outlining how regulatory guidelines and policy instruments pose severe restrictions on obtaining research permits and discourage potentially beneficial foreign collaborations. Given the low technical capacity of the Indian Forest Department, open exchange between managers and scientists seems to be hugely relevant, yet a yawning gap exists.

The earlier part of the book focuses on how the exclusionary nature of India’s wildlife policies together with poor governance and implementation and lack of rigorous science have largely led to conservation failures. The latter part examines potential alternatives for existing approaches focusing on the effectiveness of community-based conservation, India’s Joint Forest Management experience and the legacy of the India Eco Development project.The author systematically analyzes the many factors that impact the effectiveness of community-based conservation—from scientific difficulties associated with establishing sustainable extraction limits to conditions beyond tenurial security such as accessibility to markets, social capital, governance, population growth that are equally

relevant. While community-based cons- ervation has undoubtedly played a role in preserving and often regenerating native biodiversity in India, it is useful to understand that habitats under some form of extraction, even subsistence- level use may not harbour the full range of species that are found in completely protected areas.

Łe case study of Mendha (Lekha) reveals the complex intertwining of issues that influence community- managed forests in India. Joint Forest Management represents one of India’s largest exercises in the decentralization of natural forest management. In chap- ter 6, the author traces the historical origins of the concept, implementation challenges and the resulting patchwork of successes and failures. Clear, useful and detailed guidelines are outlined on how JFM could achieve ecological, institutional and financial sustainability. In a similar vein, Chapter 7 outlines the conceptual framework underlying the India Eco Development Project with detailed analyses of operating principles, implementation failures, issues such as lack of ownership and weak PA management influencing outcomes and ultimately, the lack of real impacts on livelihoods or conservation objectives.

The final chapter is based on an optim- istic premise that it is realistically possible to reconcile diverse ideologies to achieve conservation, to transform failures and to utilize lessons from implementation failures towards more eRective approaches that benefit people and wildlife. Łe author underscores the need to embrace a mosaic of approaches based on equity principles that include strictly protected areas and community-managed areas, highlighting the potential of appropriate models of non-consump- tive uses such as ecotourism to benefit both wildlife and communities.

Suggested solutions to the crisis relate to fundamental yet tangible issues such as improved buffer zone management through timely compensation in human-wildlife conflict situations, the juxtaposition of community based approaches with strict nature protection, controlled access to forest resources via a licensing system and site-based solutions. Łe author reminds us that India’s rich history of people’s partici- pation in environmental movements and informed civil society movement will lie at the core of the much-needed radical shift in current conservation paradigms.

Years of rigorous fieldwork and thorough research make this book invaluable to anyone interested in learning how to make conservation work in a country as challenging as India. More stringent editing of some chapters and cutting back on details in others would have enhanced readability. Most notably, the author’s deep passion for India’s wilderness and peoples comes through in every chapter of this instructive book.

Science, society and the future of India’s wildlife: Ghazala Shahabuddin. 244 Pages. Permanent Black

 Madhu Rao is the Regional Technical Advisor Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Asia Program, and Coordinator for Asia for the Network of Conservation Educators and Practitioners (NCEP). mrao@wcs.org

 

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