~ By Pakhi Das
India has an established network of protected areas spread across the length and breadth of the country. Every year, the government proposes demarcation of more areas for creating national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, yet conservation of endangered species continues to be a national challenge. This begs the question- is the full potential of the existing protected areas in terms of conservation or tourism being utilized? A recent paper examines six lesser-known protected areas (PAs) in the state of Madhya Pradesh and determines certain site-specific challenges and potential solutions for their smooth management. The study spans protected areas across central Indian landscape- the Dinosaur Fossil National Park, Sardarpur wildlife sanctuary, Gandhi Sagar wildlife sanctuary, Ralamandal wildlife sanctuary, Kheoni wildlife sanctuary and Sanjay-Dubri Tiger Reserve. Key informant interviews and focused group discussions were conducted with multiple stakeholders including local community members, forest department officials and industrialists with operations in the region.
Study Areas in Madhya Pradesh
The paper summarizes the importance of each of the lesser-known protected area with descriptions of the existing biodiversity, historic value, cultural value and lists down the main tourist attractions. Then, using problem trees, it establishes the cause–effect relationship between the problems of specific PA and their outcomes. Although each PA selected in this study had its own distinctive features, the issues in all PAs were found to stem from similar site-specific management challenges.
Problem tree analysis for Kheoni Sanctuary
The main identifiable and actionable aspects included – the lack of awareness about importance of conservation and lack of livelihood options with amicable solutions to community’s problems in the PAs. Moreover, the impact of poor governmental support or paucity of funding was visible in the availability of basic infrastructure facilities for both forest department staff and for tourists. Support to the wildlife management staff could increase efficiency on their part with consequentially enhanced performance that could ultimately lead to better management and conservation of the PAs. Moreover, since these selected PAs are lesser known to public, the annual footfall of tourists is extremely low especially in comparison to other central Indian national parks such as Kanha and Pench The paper indicates a cyclic relationship of tourist footfall with smooth functioning, development, and awareness of lesser-known protected areas. Well-managed protected areas with good facilities attract more tourists, likewise higher tourist footfall generates revenue for better management of the protected areas. The paper states that wildlife conservation in India can go a long way with the participation of all stakeholders ranging from forest officials to tourists to the local communities residing in the vicinity of the PAs. Through discussions with stakeholders, it was found that the forest staff of study area had strong support for conservation and their only requirement was to avail basic facilities like clean drinking water, office equipment and forest camp essentials such as sleeping bag, high-beam torch etc. However, community support for conservation across the project sites varied. Depending on various factors such as land rights and extent of human wildlife conflict the communities were found to be either supportive of conservation, neutral or simply against it. This reinstates the need to raise awareness about conservation and seek community buy-in for a holistic management of the PAs.
The researchers also reached out to organizations and companies within 300 km distance of the PAs to seek their support for conservation especially under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives.. In a key finding, 48% of the companies that were reached out to, did not respond but 65% of those who did respond were in favor of diverting their funds under CSR for the cause of conservation. The study highlights an important avenue for conservation planning, wherein companies are also sensitized towards conservation goals. Relevant organizations such as NGOs and not-for-profits could utilize these additional resources from a wider stakeholder pool to support the cause of conservation in lesser-known PAs.
Focused Group Discussion at Booj Ki Dhani Village- Relocated village from Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary
Original paper: Peteneinuo Patricia, Suchitra Acharya, Tripti Pal Verma, Akash Sharma and Pradeep Chaudhry. 2021. “Ecotourism opportunities and conservation challenges: A case study involving some lesser-known protected areas of central India landscape” Asian Journal of Conservation Biology. doi.org/10.53562/ajcb.CQYG2084