Adivasis can be an useful allies in tiger conservation

Deccan Chronicle.  | Pillalamarri Srinivas

Nation, Current Affairs

Forest dwellers consider the tiger as god and worship the animal as Vagoba or Duvval in agriculture season.

A cement statue 'weeping trees' bleeding as wood smugglers cut them has been set up. (Photo: DC)

UTNOOR (ADILABAD): It is convenient to blame the indigenous Adivasi population for cutting trees and destroying forests and wildlife, but the truth is that it is the wood smugglers and poachers from outside who are creating the damage. Adivasis, who live in gudems, have no use for wood themselves as they do not use wooden furniture and even the doors of their clay built houses are just a bamboo mat.

Despite this, in the old Adilabad district which has a large Adivasi population, the forest staff do not allow the Adivasis to take wood from the forest which they use in their traditional rituals.        
But wildlife staff has understood that the local population can be an ally in tiger conservation. In Kagaznagar division, ways are being explored to create a positive atmosphere for tiger conservations by involving the local people. This is especially important with tigers from the Tippeshwar and Tadoba reserves in Maharashtra migrating to the local forests, and the need to keep them safe.

Recently, the district forest officers of Kumarambheem-Asifabad district conducted the 'Tiger Volleyball Cup' in which nearly 1,000 village youth participated.

The competition was intended to connect the village youth to nature and tiger conservation and involve them in the protection of the forests.

Another surprising guardian of the forests are the Maoists. A few years ago, a Survey of India report said that the forest area was intact where Naxalite movement was found and also where Adivasis are living in Telangana state.

After the Maoists had retreated to bordering Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh, teak wood smugglers entered the Mangi
forest vacated by them and created havoc. The Mangi forest was once considered to be a stronghold of Maoists.

The presence of tigers may act as a deterrent in controlling the wood smuggling but the smugglers are ruthless and could kill the tigers without a second thought if it interfered with their activities. Mangi is now the centre of the wood smuggling activity with corrupt police and forest officials helping them.

When Chief Minister issued directions to control wood smuggling a few months ago, police and forest officials made a big show of controlling the illegal trade, but now it is business as usual.

Two tigers moving separately were detected ten days ago, one near Jodipelagudem near Thallapet in Dandepalli mandal and the other near Veeranghat near Gundala village in Tiryani mandal in Mancherial district.

Kanaka Jangu of Thallapet said wood smugglers and poachers are active in the area. “The tiger is the king of the forest and the forest looks beautiful only when there is a tiger's presence in it,” he said. Poachers poison the animal by mixing the poisonous chimmeta, which looks like fertiliser, in the tiger kill or in the water bodies.  

To the Adivasis, the tiger is god — they call the tiger Vagoba or Duvval — and they worship it every agriculture season. They pray to the Duvval statues on the outskirts of their villages to protect them and their cattle. They perform special puja to the Duvval as part of the Akadi festival observed during Ashadamasam.

Both the tiger population and the forests have been badly affected in recent years. The number of tigers has gone down drastically due to poaching and migration to other areas due to the degradation of forests in the last 50 years in the old Adilabad district.  

Magade Gangadhar of Patnapur village in Jainoor mandal said tigers used to wander like dogs there 50 years ago, when the forest around Patnapur was dense. This is where the late Sadguru Pulaji Baba had settled and established his ashram a long time ago..

Forest officials who talk much about the co-existence of Adivasis with the animals, yet plan to relocate Adivasi villages in the core area of the Kawal tiger reserve and villages located in the tiger corridor between Tadoba and Kawal. This tiger corridor mainly falls in the Kagaznagar forest division that is considered a buffer area of the Kawal reserve.

The idea is to minimise animal-human conflict, though the real conflict comes not from Adivasis but from those whose cultural orientation is different and those for whom greed is the driving force. It is not uncommon to see drawings of tigers on the walls of adivasi homes and statues of tiger installed in front of government offices.

There are at least seven villages called ‘Puli Madugu’ (pond where tiger drinks water) across the district and this indicates the glorious days for tigers in the Adilabad forests. Vehicles were stopped when tigers crossed the road in the forests. There is a statue of a tiger on both sides of the entrance to the old district jail on the outskirts of Asifabad mandal headquarters. In the past 10 years, tigers have almost disappeared from these forests. But the migration of tigers from the Tadoba Andhari tiger reserve and Tippeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary have given hope.