The Sigur Nature Trust recently sponsored and participated to the meeting on “Future of Nilgiri Mountains” organized by Mr. Venugopal, coordinator of the Save Nilgiris Campaign (SNC). This event, held in Ooty on 3rd February 2017, gathered a small but dedicated audience. Remarkably, the journalists present at this event made a very good job at reporting what was discussed. The article in the Hindu can be found here:
The essence of what we propose for the future of the Nilgiris is based upon a general observation on the local economy and our experience in landscape ecology.
When you want to develop an NGO, a product, a company, a town, a region or a country, you need an idea of what is “marketable” and focus on it. All other issues, whatever their importance, will be settled as long as there is a strong focus on what matters most. Since tourism is the largest industry in the world, and since the region is unique for its biodiversity, it makes sense to promote tourism in the Nilgiris as the top economic priority. Moreover, like it or not, tourism will grow exponentially in India and the Nilgiris will be flooded by visitors. But if not properly organized, tourism kills its market by over-exploiting it, and the present trends on water deficiency, soil, erosion, land degradation and wildlife loss, shows that this is exactly what is happening now.
In parallel, the Sigur Nature Trust and several other NGOs and research organizations, are working on landscape level analysis of wildlife dynamics. As of today, a fair amount of knowledge exists on where wildlife is found and what are its requirement to survive forever. As an example, we recently published a scientific article in Animal Conservation (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/acv.12314/abstract), that automatically “calculated” the elephant corridors locations and the core areas for the elephants. This information can help to decide what to do where, without interfering with the biology of the elephant. The same approach can be utilized for the tiger or any other species of plant or animal.
Merging a clear development direction with good knowledge of the resource base (biodiversity, water, soil, space, etc.) dynamics, can be a major boost to the region. For example, large theme parks can be installed on the outskirts of the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve, providing a sense of wildlife “adventure” without even touching the sensitive ecosystems. Smaller facilities can be allowed to exist in towns or the countryside, with a tourism dedicated to nature, culture and discovery. In the sensitive areas, only a relatively small number of tourists can be accepted in the form of ecotourism. If quality is the common denominator of these different forms of tourism, all other activities, including plantations, agriculture, small industries, will also increase their standards and the region could effectively become an island of sustainable development.
Such a scheme cannot be “parachuted” on the population from above. All communities in the Nilgiris must see the interest, which is basically higher income for the bulk of the population. Plus, this sort of scheme promotes democratic functioning, information sharing, quality at all levels (health, education, waste management, resource management, etc.), and proper governance.
To engage in this kind of vision, there is no other way than to discuss about it, be involved, participate and then impose it.