Five tigers recorded in Goa by the State Forest Department, 1 male, 2 females and 2 cubs! And that is fantastic news. Why? Tigers are a keystone species, which means that their survival aids a balance by virtue of the interdependence between other species. The forest that the tigers inhabit indicate that it is biodiverse and the western ghats have already been accorded the title of Unesco World Heritage Natural Site and one of the top biodiversity hot spots in the world. All our medicines for terminal illnesses, clean air and most importantly clean drinking water come from these forests. These forests also help to sequester carbon and mitigate pollution.
Last week we were in Ranthambore for the National Camp of the Kids for Tigers programme by Sanctuary Asia, along with educationists, point teachers and students called Tiger Ambassadors representing Tezpur, Calcutta, Sunderbans, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Sawai Madhopur and Goa. We saw 10-12 tigers in the wild including cubs and Ranthambore has around 60 tigers! The moment we landed at the station in Sawai Madhopur we were amazed at the tiger illustrations all over the old building of the station complex. It was super to see the people of the city take ownership and pride in its tigers. And Ranthambore is prospering with tiger tourism! Besides tigers we also saw other species like spotted deer, sambar, nilgai, black buck, a leopard, black naped hare, langurs and a variety of birds! Ranthambore began with a small tiger population under Project Tiger in 1973.
Goa too has a small population of tigers right now. It has always had the potential to be a great wildlife and nature destination. Its ecological wealth is its khazaana! But we feel let down that Goa’s tourism lacks a vision to support wildlife tourism. We feel ashamed every time we see only advertisements promoting casinos at the airport or outside. Contrast this to the top tourist destinations -- Ecuador and Galapagos, biodiversity and wildlife takes top priority and locals take great pride in showcasing this to the visitors.
The children of Goa under the umbrella of Kids for Tigers-Goa met the Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar the very next day when he was elected in March 2013. It was a very special moment as he interacted with the students, acknowledged their concerns and accepted their appeal for tiger conservation. It was also special to hear him state with concern that first the rights of the forest communities or people living near to forest areas needed to be taken care of.
The Kids for Tigers Goa met the CM Manohar Parrikar again this month as part of the Tiger Fest organised on the April 7, 2017. This time the Fest was unique with an early morning biodiversity walk along the Khazaans of Panjim and interaction with the MLA of Panjim, Siddharth Kunkalienkar followed with a meeting with the CM at his office at the Assembly Complex.
Kids for Tigers from different schools accompanied by their teachers, congregated at the meeting point, Divya Circle from where we travelled by bus to the sluice gate along the historic causeway, Ponte de Linhares. The Khazaans of Panjim are extremely important as these were built 3500 yrs ago. These flood plains were formalised by a network of bunds or dykes lined with mangroves to harvest solar salt, local varieties of fish, shrimps and even grow rice that can withstand salinity. This walk and interaction with the MLA was organised with support from TERI and the Biodiversity Management Committee of Panjim city.
While we waited for the MLA to join us, the students of Auxilium School did a final practice of a street play that they were to present to the CM. The other participants were kids from Little Penguins School and Bhavan's School, Hedgewar School. At 8.30 am we began the walk with a brief introduction followed by Asha of TERI explaining about the initiative to prepare a PBR for the city. We sighted mud lobster nests, telescopic snails, fiddler crabs, mud crabs and the mud skippers.
The participants were explained the process of making solar salt and also got a chance to walk down to the salt pans to see how the salt crystallizes and is collected.
At the end of the walk, we presented a bag of solar salt to the MLA who interacted with the students sharing his experiences as a child growing up in Panjim city and expressing his appreciation for this chance to finally see how salt is made! He also shed light on current practices of littering and coerced the students to do their bit. The students of Auxilium School, who won the third place at the All India level for maximum collection of segregated dry waste, explained to the MLA that while they segregate their waste at school the garbage collectors from the Panchayat mix it all to be taken to the Saligao Treatment Plant indifferent to the efforts by the students stating that the plant can take and handle mixed waste. Some of the teachers too explained to the MLA their insights of better working of the plant when fed with segregated waste. The MLA promised to look into this issue.
The student delegation than boarded the school bus to go to the Assembly Complex to meet the CM. The street play participants quickly changed and along with other school representatives were ready with a poster appeal to conserve Goa's tigers, its forests, Khazaans and rivers for posterity.
The wait was long as Friday is the day for public grievances and there were lots of people who had taken an appointment to meet the CM. Our appointment was initially scheduled for 11am but was later rescheduled for 12.30pm. The CM had also checked with us earlier if we could meet him earlier in the week on Monday itself. We were asked to wait in room 102 just outside the CM's office. We were sent a request that the CM now had barely two mins to meet the students. CM Parrikar finally met them at 1.30pm. The students began their presentation. We quickly briefed him about the biodiversity walk earlier in the day, the visit to the saltpans and the appeal for conservation of Goa's pristine biodiversity, its forests, tigers and water.
The play was fantastic and narrated the story of a king who had no concern for the forests, its tigers and environment, thus leading to the plight of water scarcity, extreme climate and near extinction of its people and how he is shown the path of reformation and conservation by the Queen.
We will meet the CM soon to now appeal for a Tiger Reserve to protect the 5 tigers that have now been recorded in Goa's forests! It’s an asset and wealth that any would give as inheritance to the children of tomorrow.
(Tallulah D’Silva is a practising architect in Goa and has recently taught at the Goa
College of Architecture as