Resettlement of people for conservation is a contentious issue, but remains an important policy for conserving species like tigers which require vast, inviolate habitats. Recommendations to resettle communities should ideally be supported with careful evaluation of the needs of wildlife, socio-economic characteristics of dependent communities and their attitudes, and we (Mousumi, Douglas MacMillan and myself) present one such case study. Using a semi-structured questionnaire survey of 158 households across a gradient of tiger occupancy, we found overwhelming preference for resettlement among pastoralist Gujjars and hence an unexpected conservation opportunity to expand inviolate areas for tigers in the western Terai-Arc Landscape.
Conserving large carnivores such as tigers in human-dominated landscapes, where they can potentially inflict considerable costs upon largely impoverished local communities, is particularly challenging. Conserving and recovering the dwindling populations of tigers is contingent upon securing protected areas which serve as undisturbed habitats required for breeding, and maintaining connectivity between such protected reserves through a matrix of forests which are inhabited and utilized by local communities. With heads of governments of all 13 tiger range countries pledging to double tiger numbers by 2022, conservationists and policy makers at the global and national level are debating the best ways to delineate ‘inviolate cores’ and ‘areas of coexistence’ within larger landscapes to achieve these twin objectives, our research provides an objective framework to make such conservation prioritizations.
We used semi-structured questionnaires among 158 Gujjar households across the western Terai Arc Landscape, situated in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. Specifically, our objectives were to (a) assess the livelihoods of the forest-dwelling pastoralist Gujjars, (b) document the number and nature of livestock losses and identify the correlates of livestock depredation, and finally (c) assess the preferences of Gujjars towards interventions required to improve their well-being.
Given previously documented resistance to resettlement within the community, we were surprised at the overwhelming preference for resettlement outside the forests among the interviewed household. While the respondents aspire to improve their well-being, largely influenced by their positive perception of the condition of previously resettled community members, this also represents a rarely seen conservation opportunity to expand inviolate habitat for tigers in this human-dominated landscape.