“Kanha – The Most Beautiful Forest in India”
Interview highlights with Sanjay Shukla IFS, Field Director Kanha National Park & Tiger Reserve
Sanjay took over as the field director of Kanha in Aug 2016 and not even a year since he took over but has done lot of progress over there – kudos to his workaholic nature (he has not even taken a single day off since he took over other than going off to Kaziranga for a week for a tiger-reserve related meeting called by the NTCA). Don’t consider him for just a strict director but a huge wildlife lover and a very passionate wildlife photographer – a very rare combo of everything. Was our opportunity to meet him and record his interview. Below are the highlights of the interview.
He says that Kanha is a big and a beautiful tiger reserve very unique compared to the rest of the world where people come and visit all across the globe. People go to other reserves to see Tigers and other animals but Kanha is an exception where many come just to feel and enjoy the forest – the landscape is that beautiful (& we can’t agree more).
Kanha tiger reserve has a core of 917 sq. km and buffer area of 1080 sq. km. The Phen wildlife sanctuary which adjoins the Kanha also comes under him and currently they are working on getting it merged into the buffer of Kanha. Currently there are no villages are there in the core – 6 to 7 villages got relocated and currently 160 odd villages exist in the buffer area.
Kanha like many other central india parks has many species which are specific to India and specific to central india but There are 2 key species that Kanha is popularly known for – the Tiger and the Barasingha.
Sanjay stressed the fact that Kanha is the only place where you find Barasingha [even though very recently a few were relocated to Bhopal forest area and some to Satpura forest]. In 1917 there were just 66 barasingha and were at the verge of getting wiped out and that’s when forest department took drastic steps to save the species, and today there are 800+ barasingha in Kanha alone – thanks to forest dept’s successful efforts.
He feels his and the Kanha forest dept’s biggest challenge will be the protection of this two rare species, the tigers and the barasingha.
He is extremely happy to suggest that there are no organized poaching atall in his area and only few accidental deaths – like usage of snares and are poisoning from the local communities due to man-animal conflict in the fringes.
His main goal is to improve the economy of the local people and he feels they are the nerve center for the protection of the tigers and the barasingha and the overall forest.
Infact 1/3rd of the entire amount that is collected at the gates [tourism related revenue] go to the improvement of the local community and the remaining 2/3rd goes for developmental activities of the forest
He was extremely happy to suggest about many activities he has undertaken – he is working on creating many programs to enhance the livelihood for the locals such as some 300 people were trained in hospitality program so that they can all be placed in forest resorts across the country and most importantly in the resorts attached to Kanha. Many of them are getting trained as electricians, vehicle repair and serviceman and many more such jobs – mainly those that are required in a way or another in the local economy.
Nearby village kids are given nature education – a way to connect with the kids of the villages and explain the importance of the animals and the forest. For children who are in 6th to 8th grade, forest dept. conducts a one day program about forest and nature while kids going to 9th to 12th, a 3-day program where they get to stay in the forest, go on treks with the forest personnel and ride gypsies like the guests/tourists of the forests do, to get a feel of what is there in the forest and how tourists who come all over the world get to do and experience safaris.
There are 125 guides in the forest and about 200+ drivers and all are local and hence generating much needed employment in the neighborhood creating a major economy for the locals and creating a second set of careers (electricians, drivers, vehicle repairers etc.) for the locals and the whole economy revolving around it.
Also in MP (Madhya Pradesh), to attract more foreign tourists, they have reduced foreign entry ticket prices and made equal to indian forest entry fee – first in the nation, [almost all forest have an entry fee and they are different for indians and different for nationals of foreign countries and almost double for them] and this measure might get more and more foreigners to MP forests and hence more revenue to the local economy.
Also another new and unique feature of MP forests is that, unlike other states, MP allows single seat booking and hence people need not book the entire gypsy – it helps especially if you travel alone or just two of you and it works out much much cheaper when you share and makes it so affordable and thus encouraging more such travelers to visit Kanha and other MP forests and again another huge boost for the local economy.
Sanjay was very particular to suggest that there is no VIP culture existing there nor will ever exist and hence tourists feel they are treated fair.
He stressed on the fact that while tourists get to enjoy the forest, a lot of discipline is enforced among the guides and drivers. No speeding or over crowding when a tiger is spotted, rules are strictly followed & Highly disciplined – if found breaking the law, the drivers/guides are fined heavily with a monetary fine for first offense to banning for a week for repeated offense and hence ensuring a very disciplined staff and a great experience for the travelers. Also Sanjay was very proud that there was no littering allowed nor seen anywhere in the forest which is so critical for the species to live in the forest without getting affected or poisoned by that horrible plastics and chemicals which we humans are getting used to 🙁
Asked about what are the goals he want to achieve in the next few years , he says
- Make it zero poaching for Tigers, be it organized or accidental (snares, poisoning etc.)
- Maximize career oriented training for Locals – make it best in the country
- Conduct regular Guide training programs to enhance their naturalists skills
- Complete protection to barasingha too and not just tigers
Time came where we had to end as the number of people who came to talk to him, meet him swelled and we had to allow others to access him and end this amazing information/knowledge sharing from him. We wish him all luck to achieve his goals and let Kanha glow under his leadership much more than it has achieved today.
Finally but reluctantly we left thanking him for such a wonderful interview, his time more importantly and his great hospitality towards us – Thank you sir!!
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PS: Please be a responsible wildlife tourist; No littering, No sounds, No feeding, no getting down from the safari jeep (when on safari), No phone calls. Remember that we are visiting their home and when we are there, let’s follow their rules.
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