Working with Wildlife

Vivek Menon, Executive Director, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) speaks to The Thumb Print.

Wildlife activists and researchers work amidst great personal risk to their lives. Do you think Indian laws and policies have done enough to take care of their social security and welfare?

Not only wildlife activists, conservationists and researchers face risks in their jobs, there are many other professions that are as risky, or even more. However this is the civil society coming forward to do something that they want to. And this cannot and must not be measured in terms of what the Indian laws and policies have done for them.

93

Are there any mandatory rules for wildlife organizations to provide insurance cover as a no fault liability when they join an organisation?

No. However, WTI as an organisation have made provisions to insure all its staff members.

There are many amateur wildlife conservationists who work purely for passion. Can something be done for them in case of a wildlife emergency?

Charitable individuals as well as organisations do come forward and support when such interventions are needed. We do that too…provide support to individuals or even organisations.

We are also implementing a project for the frontline staff who are at the forefront in wildlife protection. More than 18000 frontline staff from across the country are insured under our unique umbrella Group Accident Insurance Scheme. We also provide ex-gratia support to individuals in need.

Do you think the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 should have compensatory provisions for wildlife activists as well?

No. Wildlife Protection Act is meant for wildlife, and should not be diluted. The more the complexities, the more there are chances of loopholes. By bringing in human angle to this law, there could be possibilities of weakening it.

Wildlife organizations have been conducting awareness programmes among the local people on dealing with stray wildlife over and over again for the past many years. But things do not seem to change on the ground. Do you think there is a need to change the tenor of wildlife activism?

It may not be completely correct to say that things are not changing. This depends on place and time and situation.

But it is definitely not an easy task to change a person’s attitude. I still get excited at seeing an elephant in the wild after having worked for wildlife conservation for nearly three decades. Different people express their excitement differently. And in cases of wild animals being seen in human-dominated landscapes, we are trying to get people to suppress their excitement altogether.

However, having said that, best of the conflict situations handled by our team have been those with multi-pronged approach including awareness, enforcement and veterinary intervention carried out by a team comprising sociologists, biologists, veterinarians and enforcement officials under the overall management of the Forest Department authorities.

On one hand you keep the people safe and at the other you keep the animal safe. There are set guidelines that can ensure this, if effectively implemented.

Do you think with adequate social security measures more and more people will opt for a career in wildlife?

People choose a career in wildlife mostly out of passion. Despite the pay being relatively lesser, you still have an increasing band of the green brigade. Increasing salaries or social security measures may play only a marginal role if any, in increasing the number of sincere people working for wildlife.