A young tigress in the forestNews

Winter Challenges

It is hard to imagine that Winter is here already. I spoke with our patrolling co-ordinator a short while ago and he said: “It’s getting quite cold here now!” That was quite a surprise, usually we’re into December before the first mentions of cold. Well, 2023 has been a strange year weatherwise so perhaps I shouldn’t be that surprised. Thank goodness for the help of our wonderful supporters like you, I thought. Thanks to your kindness and generosity another 160 Anti-Poaching Patrollers will have a warm winter jacket this year. We definitely couldn’t have done this without your help. Thank you, your support is truly amazing. We know that many of you continue to face incredibly testing times midst the seemingly endless cost of living crisis; so we are immensely grateful for any support which you give.

Eighteen months ago, when we launched this project, we wanted to replenish and replace worn out essential equipment and provide the new equipment that modern anti-poaching patrollers need. We knew that it would be a mammoth task as some of the equipment which needed replacing was over 12 years old. Your phenomenal support over the last 18 months has blown us away. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your incredible generosity and support, without which we couldn’t have done half of what we have done. Your support has enabled us to provide the essential waterproof clothing needed by 1005 anti-poaching patrollers in little over a year. This is in addition to the many other items of essential equipment we have provided as outlined below. Thanks to you, every anti-poaching patroller in Bandhavgarh now has a full set of waterproof clothing for wet weather patrolling. We know that many of you continue to face incredibly testing times midst the seemingly endless cost of living crisis; so we are extremely grateful for any support you can give.

Suddenly it is Cold Again

It usually takes three months for the cold weather to grip Bandhavgarh after the last of the monsoon rains, but in keeping with the strange weather patterns we have seen throughout 2023, it is now much colder than usual for this time of year. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, but it is unusual nonetheless. With the cold weather comes the early morning mists which can make foot patrolling even more dangerous. The right equipment is absolutely essential to ensuring that these brave patrollers who risk their lives to keep wild tigers safe are protected, warm and alert whenever they are on foot. We provided warm winter jackets for 355 Anti-poaching patrollers last winter and 80 more patrollers receive new warm jackets at the end of the monsoon. Just a few weeks ago we placed an order for another 80 warm jackets bringing the number of patrollers equipped for the cold weather to 515.

This is a little over half of the patrollers equipped. Yesterday I received word of some grant funding which is on its way to us and will help us to provide warm jackets for another 160 anti-poaching patrollers which is wonderful news. It means that 675 anti-poaching patrollers will be warm this winter thanks to the kind donations we have received. We still need to raise £7260 ($9075) to provide warm winter jackets for the 330 patrollers who will be cold, so that is our priority right now.

Other Equipment Too

Since our last report, your kind donations have helped us to provide other essential equipment too. We have provided 2 snake rescue kits and have ordered a third this week. Snake kits are protection for the snakes and humans too. It is not uncommon for snakes to enter peoples’ homes looking for a warm place to sleep and patrolling camps are no exception too. Venomous snakes present the biggest danger to a sleeping, off-duty or resting patroller as they cosy alongside the warm body and inflict an often fatal bite if the poor patroller moves. Equipping patrolling camps with a snake rescue kit not only allows patrollers to rescue snakes from people’s homes and relocate them into a safe part of the forest; they allow patrollers to rescue their fellow patrollers from a fatal bite whilst sleeping too. It is possibly hard to imagine given that attacks by wild tigers always make headline news, but snakes kill far more people every year in India alone more than 58000 people die annually from snake bites with three quarters of the deaths being in children and young adults. Each snake rescue kit costs around £220 ($275) and can save many lives (snakes and human) as they can be used over and over. It would be great if every remote patrolling camp could be equipped with a snake rescue kit but there are many other urgent needs too and only a small number of patrollers are currently trained in the safe use. Such needs will certainly keep us busy for many years to come.

The heavy monsoon rains left some of our patrollers without uniforms as they couldn’t be washed and dried in time for the next shift. These uniforms provide an official presence in the forest when our anti-poaching patrols need to challenge those who shouldn’t be there, so we have provided 5 more full uniforms to act as spares for the patrollers when such occasions arise.

The colder winter weather also brings longer nights and shorter days, which means more patrolling in darkness or twilight which is often accompanied by foggy or misty conditions. With this in mind we must prioritise rechargeable powerful flashlights alongside the warm winter clothing highlighted above. We hope to receive sufficient grant funding to buy up to 80 flashlights in the next few weeks, however, this still leaves more than 875 patrollers without. We try to counter this by sharing one powerful flashlight between two or three patrollers who are on duty together, but even so we will need a further 205 powerful flashlights as a minimum.

The equipment needs of our patrols are constantly changing as poachers and other miscreants deploy new techniques to evade capture or discovery. Modern patrolling equipment needs to be lighter, more versatile and more durable than before. As a result, fundraising for new and replacement equipment is likely to be a long-term project going forward. At night and in winter, in pitch dark conditions, wooden canes, head torches and powerful flashlights are invaluable kit to provide reflections in the eyes of wild animals and of the metal from hidden snares and traps, and to provide a means of disarming those traps without losing a limb.

Daily Dangers

We often talk to our patrollers about the dangers they face each day, and it always surprises us to learn that their greatest fear is not that of encountering a wild tiger whilst on patrol, but it is meeting with humans whilst patrolling which they fear most. Every patroller we ask says the same thing, the most dangerous moment in the forest is when they encounter humans! Our patrollers say humans are unpredictable which makes them more dangerous. They could have guns or other weapons and launch unprovoked attacks. They could react badly to being caught in the forest, and when they outnumber the patrolling team will frequently try all means to get away, including attacking/beating up the patrollers who have discovered them. Sometimes, the humans save their retaliation for later and may attack an off-duty patroller as they return home. This is why we always try to ensure that a patrolling vehicle is close by, in case back up or rapid transfer to a medical facility is needed. Attacks by wild animals on our patrolling team are thankfully quite rare and we adopt a safety in numbers approach to foot patrolling to reduce the risk of human attacks in the field.

Human-Wildlife Conflict Again

The monsoon rains are over but encroachment into the forest is not. Just over a week ago, this encroachment led to another human death in the Manpur buffer forest. It seems strange that despite the monsoon rainfall these villagers still risk their lives to graze their cattle in the forest, sadly, it is because of crop growing that every millimetre of space is taken for rice or wheat or other food crops, leaving nowhere for livestock to graze. Despite most tiger attacks being serendipitous, where the tiger mistook the crouching human for a grazing deer. Sometimes, however, the tiger attacks in self-defence as it retaliates for being hit by a stick as the villager tries to protect his livestock. The tiger instinctively senses that the human isn’t prey but an intruder in its forest home, the attack is in defence, and the intruder has been defeated. Tigers can also be indifferent to the human presence, but tigresses with cubs nearby are always dangerous when humans approach. Sometimes the human is startled by the sudden appearance of the tiger and stands upright quickly whilst waving their arms around aggressively. The tiger sees this action as a threat and strikes the first blow. The human weighing around 65kg (143lbs) doesn’t stand a chance against the mighty tiger’s 230+kg (506+lbs) and the single blow can prove fatal if the person’s head hits the ground with force or deep wounds bleed out quickly.

The victims are often the only income provider in the family, and this can lead to villagers initiating retaliatory attacks on the tiger or leaving poisoned bait for the tiger and cubs to eat. Our patrols always have to be extra vigilant when there has been a tiger attack, not just for retaliation but also for the tiger returning to attack again. It is always a fine balance, but it worth remembering that more humans kill tigers every year than the reverse, and that more people are killed in Bandhavgarh by snakes than by tigers. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t a massive loss to the family concerned, but it does emphasise the role of our anti-poaching patrols in providing safety information to those they encounter in the forest; and educational resources which help to protect both the wildlife and human populations.

What else are we doing to help?

We are keeping our patrols at the highest levels to counter the increased risk of encroachment, retaliatory poisonings and poaching at this time of year. Our work on new permanent wildlife waterholes is still on hold until the tracks recover from the heavy rains and enable us to get our machinery on site. Our existing waterholes already provide year-round water for more than two thirds of Bandhavgarh’s wild tigers and their prey. You can also read the latest report for our waterholes project here.

With the cold winter months ahead, we urgently need your help to provide another 330 warm winter jackets so patrolling can continue for every patroller on the coldest days and nights. To equip every patroller with a winter jacket, we need to raise another £7260 ($9075) so that the brave men and women who risk their lives each day to keep wild tigers safe can keep going in the cold. Any help you can give will be most welcome. Even the smallest donation will be a huge help in these difficult times. Donate here.

Making a Difference

With your continued support, we can cover an extra 1000 km (624 miles) of wild tiger territory per month with our increased patrols, without essential winter equipment this may reduce! It is vital to ensure sufficient time to search for snares; traps and signs of poisoners around forest areas where human encroachment is widespread; and around the periphery of villages where crop raiding and livestock killing is rife. Increased patrolling helps us to curb human encroachment into wild tigers’ territories, and allows us to provide safety advice for those trying to protect their crops and livestock from wandering elephants and tigers respectively.

With more than 60 tiger cubs born in the last two years, we have many more wild tigers to keep safe now. We need your help. Your gift today, however large or small can make a huge difference as to whether Bandhavgarh’s wild tigers can survive the unprecedented threats they are facing:

  • A gift of £22 ($27) will provide a warm winter jacket for an anti-poaching patroller.
  • A gift of £110 ($135) will provide winter jackets for a team of patrollers enabling them to cover 125km (78 miles) of wild tiger territory in a day.
  • A monthly gift of £12 (US$15) per month will help us to provide an anti-poaching patroller’s essential equipment for a year.

Making your Gift Count Twice

Your new online monthly gift of £12 (US$15) per month won’t just help us to provide an anti-poaching patroller’s essential equipment for a year; it will also qualify for a 100% match bonus on the first donation amount if you keep donating for 4 months or longer. That means when you donate at £12 (US$15) monthly in month 4 we will receive an extra £12 (US$15) from GlobalGiving to help us save wild tigers. Thus, there has never been a better time to start a new monthly donation than now. On 28 November 2023 it will be Giving Tuesday and our friends at GlobalGiving have pledged $1.2million in bonus matched funds on the day. If you donate online to any of our projects on the day your impact will be even greater as we will receive a share of this incredible bonus pot.

Without our help, we know that more wild tigers will die; and more humans will be mauled or killed due to encroachment or human-tiger conflict. Sadly, with every human life lost comes another threat to the wild tiger’s survival in the form of retaliation; thus we must protect both if we are to ensure that wild tigers can have a wild future.

Please don’t hesitate if you can help, your donation can be the difference between life and death for a wild tiger, as it helps to keep our patrolling going when it is most needed. Every tiger and every tiger cub counts. Thank you for making our fight against poachers, the changing climate and human-animal conflict possible.

May I take this opportunity to wish those of you who celebrate it a Happy Thanksgiving, and wish everyone the very best in the forthcoming holiday season, thank you again for your amazing support.

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