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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Interview wth Brinda Malhotra, Head of CSR, Aircel

I had an opportunity to do an email interview with Brinda Malhota, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, Aircel. She had been working closely on the Save the Tigers campaign that Aircel spearheaded. I used this opportunity to ask some questions about the tiger conservation and related topics, based on little knowledge of tigers that I had. 

    Q1: Congrats for the success of the ‘Save tiger campaign. Whom do you attribute this success to? Government? Forest department? Public? (While we public might have promoted the cause online, we haven’t done much on the ground for the tigers. Wish to know whom you think played key role in increasing tiger population)
What began in 2008 as an effort to bolster the dwindling tiger numbers in India has now started showing encouraging results, thanks to the relentless contribution from various stakeholders. This is evident from the increase in numbers from 1411 tigers in 2008 to the roaring 2226 tigers today. We are absolutely delighted to have contributed to this cause of tiger conservation. This success is the result of collective efforts and commitment of volunteers, forest department officials, locals, conservationists, Aircel employees, people who have contributed funds to this cause and to every citizen who raised their voice to Save Our Tigers – this success belongs to each and every one of us.  It has given a fresh lease of life not only to Tigers, but also to many conservationists who have dedicated their lives to conservation. It gives them renewed hope and optimism. However, we believe that there are miles to go before the roar of the Tiger returns to its full glory.

   Q2: Give us an overview of tiger census- how does the counting happen? How do we know that same tiger is not counted twice or some tigers are not counted at all? How much of it is technology and how much is human effort?
The latest tiger census methodology has been the most comprehensive scientific technique used till date. For the first time, National Tiger Conservation Authority has taken help from Wildlife Institute of India in collaboration with conservationists.  The process consists of three phases: Phase I- on ground data is collected by field personal who follow a standardized protocol. In Phase II- Human intervention is reduced and technology helps in validating data collected by the field personal. Statistical and satellite data is added to this data and analyzed. This data is further validated in Phase III using the camera trapping procedure. This unique process has resulted in capturing photographs of 70 percent unique tigers in the wild. This mix of human and technology has been appreciated by many conservationists and we believe that it is a step in the right direction.
Source: Ministry of Environment & Forests
     Q3:  I would like to know a bit about Pilibhit tiger reserve in UP, close to Nepal Border. Is it an active tiger reserve? Is it open to public? I had as close as 25kms to this reserve but couldn’t proceed because of bad roads, not enough information and shortage of time. [My experience trying to visit Pilibhit here]
Pilibhit Tiger reserve has a very high conservation value in terms of its tiger population. According to a study by Wildlife Institute of India (WII), tiger population in Dudhwa-Pilibhit is the only species having the ecological and behavioral adaptations of the tiger unique to the larger Tarai region on the Indo- Nepal borders. It is an active reserve and is open to public from September to June. The reserve has its own tourist lodges and forest rest houses at Barahi, Mustafabad, Nawadia to name a few.

The Dudhwa-Pilibhit Tiger reserve is very close to our hearts at Aircel and we have many active on ground projects in this reserve. We launched a program called Primary Response Team (PRT) in Dudhwa-Pilibhit Region of UP. PRTs bring additional resources towards managing the Human-Animal conflicts. The PRTs essentially form the ‘first response’ group that not only address the situation on ground, but are also crucial in relaying information to relevant Forest Departments. 

Aircel and WTI have been instrumental in the formation of 9 such PRT teams. Each of these teams has shown remarkable results by addressing conflict situations autonomously. Aircel has recently rewarded two teams for their exceptional performance in defusing tense situations.
Further information can be found on www.tigerreservepilibhit.com.
Q 4. Have there been any improvements in Anti-poaching laws since your campaign? Was there any improvements in its enforcement? Or were there any efforts to reach out to poachers and try convincing them about giving up?
We have been making concerted efforts towards stringent anti-poaching law and also its enforcement. 

We have witnessed a remarkable rise in conviction rates of poachers and wildlife traffickers. Tiger conservation efforts from places like Nepal that has seen zero poaching incidents in 2014 are a learning. Community based anti-poaching units have shown remarkable results in Nepal. We believe that for many years there has been an educated view about different wildlife species wishing to be in the forest, and they enter human habitats only because forests are shrinking. However, the reality is that some level of interaction and conflict is bound to occur when people and wildlife are sharing space and resources more so in a rapidly developing country like ours. By focusing our efforts towards mitigating these conflicts and through our small yet effective initiatives like PRT, we are taking steps in the direction of establishing a process to mitigate perils of co-existence. 

Q 5. Being in tiger conservation, I assume you might have visited Tiger Temple in Thailand- Kanchanaburi. Any comments on that place? (There’s some criticism about the whole idea, curious to know your thoughts.) Would something of that sort be viable/useful in India?
We have much ground to cover in India before we can take up initiatives similar to the Tiger Temple in Thailand. With a growing population and booming economy we cannot afford to lose steam towards this cause. Also, in India we are home to 70 % of the world’s Tiger population. Our conservation efforts have been focused on conserving tigers in the wild as they are the indicators of the overall health of the ecosystem and we should continue our efforts towards it.


Q 6. If I am an ordinary citizen and I have a weekend to spare- how can I get involved in tiger conservation or other voluntary activities in this regard? Whom to contact and what kind of contributions everyone can do?
If we want to have more tigers in the world, we must speak up and speak loudly. In the words of renowned field biologist George Schaller, “I learned long ago that conservation has no victories. It’s a never-ending process that each of us must take part in.” The new tiger numbers have given us a lot of hope to continue this fight for tigers, for our future, for our children`s future.  You can also start working with institutions like Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) who undertake a number of on ground activities like educating locals about the importance conversation which can be a big boost to the conservation efforts. You could play a major role in mobilizing the masses to support this cause through social media – using Aircel’s Facebook page on Save Our Tigers (https://www.facebook.com/StripeytheCub), Twitter handle (https://twitter.com/SaveOurTigers) and the website (www.saveourtigers.com).  You could use your blogs to voice your concern and support for the tiger and this way you could help us ensure that the cause gets the necessary attention and action from relevant stakeholders.  

Q7. Tiger Safaris in reserve forests- do they disturb wildlife? Or is it better to have them as it deters poaching? What is your take?
The challenge of balancing conservation and economic growth can be answered by spreading the message of responsible tourism. There are stringent guidelines laid out by Ministry of Environment and Forests for tourism activities in tiger reserves in the country. We believe that this should be based on scientific carrying capacity and sustainability principles. We at Aircel are currently working on a model towards responsible tourism in Tiger Reserves. Also, it provides the local population residing around the reserves employment opportunities and helps boost the local economy. This is actually a very significant way to prevent the locals from entering the forests in search of wood for their livelihood and hence, prevents deforestation. 

Q 8.  What motivated Aircel to spend big money on ‘Save Our Tigers’ campaign of all the social causes? Would Aircel continue this initiative or it will be wrapped up after this success?
In 2008, we as a company recognized the urgency of the depleting Tiger population and drew up a sustained and long-term strategy for the cause. The Tiger, also our national animal, symbolizes strength and courage. It has been eulogized in our history, poetry, cinema, literature and the list goes on. As Indians, we transact the Tiger on a daily basis – take a look at a 10 Rupee note – the 3 animals that are featured there is the Elephant, Rhino and the Tiger.

While the fact that ‘1411’ tigers were left in the wild in India triggered the ‘Save Our Tigers’ initiative, Aircel also felt that being in the communication space, we had an opportunity to give voice to the cause of Tiger protection.

We followed a two pronged approach:
First, create a buzz around the importance of conservation through a campaign that highlighted the dwindling tiger population – “Just 1411 left”. This was the first wake up call to people on a mass scale about the significance of Tiger conservation and its impact on our future. Simultaneously, we also launched several on ground initiatives on a war-footing to support and run projects to save this magnificent creature through a collaboration with our NGO partners, conservationists and Forest officials. Today we celebrate the fruits of our labour and are proud that we made a contribution towards increasing the roar of the Tiger.

Our efforts have been and will continue to be focused on promoting conservation and sustainable natural resources management helping eco systems and livelihoods become more resilient towards this cause. Our endeavor to collectively raise voices and act on the issue of sustaining life on this planet will remain by providing life for tigers and ensuring life for our children.

In addition, since Aircel is a young telecom service provider with its key target audience as the youth, ‘Save Our Tigers’ was taken up as a cause  so that we could secure the environment for our future generation, the tiger being one of the key enablers for ensuring ecological balance. We believe that youth of today are much more aware and passionate about causes related to the environment. They can act as key influencers in spreading the message of tiger conservation. We are reaching out to kids and youth through focused initiatives like organizing panel discussions in various universities/colleges on the cause. We are also leveraging the digital medium to drive conversations around the topic.

Q 9. What numbers of tiger population you’re targeting by next census? (say couple of years)
Even as we celebrate this increase in Tiger numbers, we should not be complacent. We still have a long way to go. With strong cooperation among the Centre, the states, corporates and the non-governmental sector, there is no reason why we cannot aspire to eventually have many more tigers in the wild in India.

Q 10. What other species is as endangered as tigers today? What are all should be our other priorities when it comes to wildlife?

We look forward to continued support from various stakeholders towards this dream of conservation and co-existence becoming a part of the way we live. Saving Mother Nature and its conversation is not an end, but it is the very essence of our being. In India we are lucky to have not just the world’s largest population of tigers, but also the only surviving population of the Asiatic lion in the Gir forest. Snow leopards in the Hemis National Park; barasingha deer in Kanha; and two-thirds of the world’s one-horned rhinos in Kaziranga are a testament to the rich wilderness India beholds. As our economy grows, we will increasingly see pressure on the various wildlife habitats in this country. Rampant destruction of natural habitats through agricultural expansion, urbanization, mining and other industrial and developmental pressures are increasingly pushing wildlife to the edge. We need to conserve these forests for a better future alongside the growth of the economy. Wildlife has been there for generations and they will continue to be a part of lives if we protect their habitat and treat them with respect that they deserve. 

Similar: Tiger upclose photos from Thyavarekoppa

2 comments :

Anita said...

Wonderful Qs & As.
Great interview.
Nice to learn. Happy for the success.
Save The Tigers is a great initiative! Kudos.
We all must speak up & take part.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks ANita