New Year, New Beginnings?

By Dr. Corinne Taylor-Smith – Project Leader

Children gather round for education packs

Children gather round for education packs

Happy New Year to all our supporters, we’re certainly hoping that 2020 will be a great year for wild tiger conservation, with your help.

In our October project report, we reminded you how some amazing help from our supporters had enabled us to help 180 children living with wild tigers in Bandhavgarh to go to school in 2019-20 because we were able to provide education packs with the basic writing materials and books needed to make this a reality. This took the total number of children we have helped since 2010 to 2200 across 25 different villages. With more than 70 villages around Bandhavgarh, we still have a lot of work to do.

People always ask me “How can providing education packs be considered wild tiger conservation”? They back up their questions with statements like “I want to help to save wild tigers, not children,” or “I want to donate to a project which will help wild tigers not send children to school!” I understand that on the face of it, it’s not unreasonable to not connect education packs with wild tiger conservation, but essentially it is a fundamental part of what we do. Imagine for a moment what would happen if a child in the developed world never went to school: he or she would reach adulthood without the ability to read or write, it is likely that they also would find difficulty in articulating conversation with their educated peers and potential employers, that is if indeed they had any employment options at all. Their prospects wouldn’t be good at all….

Now think about the same situation in rural India, the uneducated child who becomes an illiterate adult with little or no chance of securing a job. Add into the mix the fact that the youngster will possibly get married at 14 and soon after have a family to feed, as well as themselves! Where will they find the money and food to survive? In short they have a couple of options: it is likely that they will have been working in the fields of their parents’ farm since they were 4 or 5 years old so they’ll know about growing crops but the problem is where? If their parents didn’t have any land, it is more likely that they will have collected mahua flowers (for Indian alcohol) or Tendu leaves (for Indian tobacco) or firewood from a very young age in the very forests where tigers and leopards roam, if they haven’t been killed by a wild animal whilst undertaking these dangerous activities. They need to collect around 2000 flowers or 5000 Tendu leaves just to earn about 100 rupees (roughly £1.10/US$1.50); the wood which they cut down in the forests may be sold illegally but is most likely used to create fires for heating and cooking. You may think, well this is ok they have employment and something to eat and in part you’d be right, however, picking mahua flowers and Tendu leaves is seasonal and the collection period lasts for just a few weeks per year after that the income source dries up. Crop growing is also seasonal and requires the cutting down of trees and clearing of forest habitat to make space for crops to grow, if the youngster doesn’t have much money they won’t be able to buy seeds nor recover when their crops are eaten by marauding wildlife. In such cases, uneducated villages often turn to extreme measures to get the money needed to feed their families. These measures include: snaring herbivores to sell the meat, but this reduces the tigers’ prey base leading to increased human-tiger conflict when the tigers predate livestock instead of native prey; poisoning or snaring (poaching) tigers so that they can make some money from selling the tigers’ body parts and skins, and stop the predation of livestock from their village; selling information about the movement of wild tigers to poaching gangs or providing accommodation for poachers so that they can integrate in the village and not stand out when they move through the forest. So as you can see, a lack of education threatens both the life of wild tigers and their forest habitat https://goto.gg/32565.

Furthermore, we have observed that not only do educated children have better employment prospects; they marry later; have fewer children and thus reduce the future impact on the precious forest resources of the wild tigers’ habitat. So we can say we a good deal of confidence that providing education packs to send children to school does have a direct impact on wild tiger conservation.

It hardly seems like yesterday, but 3 months have elapsed since our last report and it’s now a worrying 7 months since we had sufficient funds to help the rural children from the poorest communities surrounding wild tigers to have the opportunities afforded to them by a proper education.  In 2020, we want to provide new beginnings for at least 250 children living with wild tigers, but we can’t do this without your help. We want the poorest children to go to school where they can learn to read, write and equally importantly learn about wildlife, nature and conservation. We want these children to have a chance to grow up and become protectors of wild tigers rather than have a lifestyle which is entirely dependent on encroachment or destruction of wild tiger habitat for survival. We had hoped to be able to fund some scholarship places at a new school where these rural children would have an opportunity to not just learn to read and write, but also to learn how to read and write in English as well as their native Hindi. This is still something which we would like to do, but without donations it is just a dream, an aspirational target. As we stand, all of the donations we have received for educational resources to date have been used to help the 2200 children we’ve helped already. If we cannot raise new funds, then another generation of young children will miss out on education and could become future tiger poachers. If you want to help us to stop this now, please donate £20/US$26 and help us to send 4 children living with wild tigers to school: https://goto.gg/32565. If 63 of our followers did this today, we could help at least 250 children this year, which would be amazing!

If all our supporters could do the same, maybe we’ll be able to break down some barriers for children living with wild tigers whose parents simply can’t afford to send them to school because the cost of basic writing materials is too high. We’d like to ensure that when we’re old and grey we can tell the next generation of children and grandchildren that there are still tigers in the wild and that because of education there will be wild tigers for many years to come: https://goto.gg/32565.

Don’t forget: when we provide education packs for children living with wild tigers we are reducing the risk of future tiger habitat destruction AND ensuring that these children have the opportunity to become future tiger protectors.

I would like to thank you for your generosity and support on behalf of the wild tigers, which we are keeping safe; on behalf of the children who we have helped to get an education (and their families who have food on their tables); and on behalf of the wider tiger community in Bandhavgarh, which benefits from providing books and writing equipment for inclusion in the education packs we distribute. Happy New Year.

Winter Challenges