Raghu Chundawat is a renowned conservation biologist whose main studies have been on snow leopards and tigers. His pioneering ten-year research on the Panna tigers was immortalized in the BBC documentary, Tigers of the Emerald Forest.
Human-animal conflict has to be looked at very pragmatically. We have to understand the root of the situation. If you look closely at regions where conflicts are taking place, you will realize that these are places where animals were once present but were slowly wiped out. When animals make reappearance due to population recovery, people are unsure about how to deal with the situation. They now have to find ways to coexist with these animals, and that is when conflict arises.
When animals are a natural part of the ecosystem throughout, there are good practices in place which minimize conflict. But when they disappear for a decade or two, these practices are replaced, and the new generation has no idea about what it means to share space with animals. When they finally see animals, they see them as a threat. People are now trying to go back to traditional ways of addressing conflict, but times have changed, and people have moved on. We have to find contemporary methods of learning to coexist with animals.
The future of the tiger is dependent on tiger habitats that exist outside protected areas. In these areas, tiger conservation depends on the community's goodwill. There are no incentives for them to participate in conservation. India has been very successful in one conservation model – an exclusive model, where we set aside an area and remove everybody from that area. But what we need now is an inclusive conservation model outside our protected areas. This model has to be incentivized. For example, we can look at tourism options where the primary beneficiaries are communities. When we looked at tourism revenues within non-protected tiger habitats, we found that we can generate enough money to sustain many small villages. It's time to consider various options for our tiger habitats outside protected areas.