Upon visiting Indian tiger reserves, a Russian reflects

Our guide – Pracenjet had been dreaming to see the dhole for 7 years. And on the last day of our trip we saw a whole pack of them! The only animal that lives in both parks and that we couldn’t see was the leopard. What a pity!

Our guide – Pracenjet had been dreaming to see the dhole for 7 years. And on the last day of our trip we saw a whole pack of them! The only animal that lives in both parks and that we couldn’t see was the leopard. What a pity!

On May 15, Sergey Naimushin, a state inspector from Kedrovaya Pyad Natural Reserve and his colleague from Lazovsky Natural Reserve – Konstantin Peleshko departed to the land of the Bengal tiger to share their experience in preserving rare predators.

This year’s trip program includes visits to the Pench Tiger Reserve and the Kanha Tiger Reserve, both being the largest reserves for the Bengal tiger. In addition, Russian inspectors met their Indian colleagues to get firsthand information about their work. The post below was written by Mr. Peleshko. -- MV

Konstantin Peleshko’s impressions

The main purpose of the trip was, of course, to visit their national parks. However, for those coming to India for the first time everything will be of interest. You have a feeling of being on a different planet. City buses, cycle rickshaws, three-wheel scooters… In the countryside you will see bulls having rest in water, and you see mango trees, huts built just as thousands of years ago… You feel like taking photos of everything and you feel like being a true pioneer.

We visited two national parks of India – the first one was Pench, and then – Kanha. We were not amazed with the abundance of colours of tropical nature. It can be easily written off to dry season. It reminds me of the Soviet cartoon about Mowgli and his: “A great drought is coming to the jungles!” Burnt grass, trees without a single leaf… Nevertheless, this hot period is the best time to observe Indian fauna – trees or grass do not hide animals who gather around perennial ponds.

A great number of hoofed animals strikes the eye. These include primarily the Indian spotted deer, but you can also encounter the sambar deer, the Indian bison or the boar. In Kanha you will also see the barashinga deer or the barking deer. It seems to me that Kanha has a more diverse offering of wildlife, although we saw the antelope in Pench only.

However, in Kanha we saw herds of barashinga deer and Indian bison (an impressive animal – males being up to 2 meters high and weighing up to one ton!!!), we observed animals that not everyone is lucky enough to see – the sloth-bear, the leopard cat, the mongoose and the dhole.

Our guide – Pracenjet had been dreaming to see the dhole for 7 years. And on the last day of our trip we saw a whole pack of them! The only animal that lives in both parks and that we couldn’t see was the leopard. What a pity!

Oh! – I totally forgot about the tiger. We saw tigers both in Pench and in Kanha. Twice we observed them when we were riding elephants (both in Kanha and in Pench), and once we saw tigers near a pond when we were driving. Every time we had a feeling that these parks were a kind of zoo reserves, because the tigers were so well fed, tired of heat and human attention. Maybe, it’s quite normal for a national park.

I can’t understand how park keepers in India manage to maintain such a great density of animals in their reserves. Around the parks, there are almost no forests, but in forested areas we didn’t see any animals (while you’re driving in the parks – there are animals, but as soon as you leave the park area there are no animals!).

Poaching seems to be a rather topical issue in the surrounding areas. You understand it perfectly well after you hear Pracenjet’s stories that 12 tiger skins and more than 100 leopard skins were seized from a gang of black dealers!!!

Moreover, hoofed animals can spoil fields of peasants from the surrounding villages. We met some peasants. They smiled and said that having a park was good and very often added: “The only thing is that sometimes animals spoil our fields.” Pench inspectors told us about cases when peasants poisoned their ponds during drought, probably to prevent animals from coming to their fields).

The fact that there are many animals in the park and that they are not afraid suggests that the park security service is excellent. Indeed, Kanha has 170 patrol camps (we call them checkpoints). A forest ranger and several observers live there all the time.

In total, Kanha security service has approximately 400 people. We can hardly even dream of this! In general, will it be acceptable for our reserves? If poaching among security employees exists, then it is really a rare thing. Although forest rangers and observers get really tiny salaries, they do value their jobs.

In Indian villages there are no employment opportunities at all; besides, penalties are very severe. Indian people will not tell about all the problems they encounter protecting their tigers, and you’d better don’t ask) – they’re really proud of their tigers and of things they do to preserve them, and they do a lot (of course, I can not speak about all states).

The Russian and Indian reserve team members on their last day.

Their parks have excellent infrastructure – many checkpoints, roads, fire breaks; furthermore, they have a project of creating forest corridors (up to 60 km wide) between parks. Also, there is interest to the tiger among Indian community. Kanha is visited by up to 160,000 people annually, with most of them being Indians.

In addition to the general safari that all tourists have, in both parks we had excursions, including visits to checkpoints, with security employees being our guides (Deputy Security Chief was our guide in Kanha).

In Kanha we walked a small distance. Being a Russian forester, I can’t do without walking, since it’s much more interesting than driving. Common tourists don’t have such an opportunity. Many thanks to the administration of both parks.

In general, I have a lot of impressions and information to reflect upon. Thanks a lot to those who organized our trip and my personal thanks to Prasenjeet Navgire, who had to be patient with us for 10 days.

Konstantin.

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