The wildlife of India and the Tiger is in the worst possible state it has ever been and getting worse[1].

Government, Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), conservationists, eco-tourism providers, wildlife tourists and average citizens, all have their vested polarized interests that they are not willing to negotiate on. This has led to a state of impasse. Wildlife conservation has become secondary to their vested interests. The conservation landscape today has become more politicized and hostile than ever before and the tiger numbers have plummeted to an all time low.

The fundamental cause of deterioration of the wildlife and environment is that the vast majority of population simply doesn’t care and is unaware of the richness of India’s wildlife, its benefits, and conveniently unaware of the threats to its existence. Vast majority of the population has not made the connection between the Tiger and other global catastrophes such as climate change and deteriorating quality of life. This wilful ignorance by the public has been exploited by the government and the large corporations and led to what seems to be decades of political, governance and moral vacuum.

So why is the wildlife and Tigers still holding on – barely holding on – at the precipice of extinction? Why have they not become extinct after decades of neglect, habitat loss and poaching?

To answer the questions ‘why is the wildlife still surviving today against all odds’ and ‘who and what is saving the wildlife today’, I travelled the length and breadth of India for months, visiting places where wildlife is still surviving. I travelled across India – watched the ‘flight’ in the canopy of the rare Hollock Gibbons of Dibru Saikhowa in the East, trekked with forest guards in Dudhwa and celebrated with members of an ecotourism cooperative in the Himalayas. I spent time with people who are actively working for the conservation of Tigers and other wildlife.

As one would expect, there are number of factors at play working in subtle ways to save the Tiger and other wildlife.

In an increasingly multi-polar world, there is no single factor which is helping wildlife survive. The factors responsible for survival of wildlife of India are different in different parts of India. As befits the spirit of India, the individuals and other factors making a difference are as varied as the land, people and culture of India itself.

There is also a culture of over-emphasis on 'grassroots conservation', 'working from the frontlines' and 'the unsung hero of conservation on a lonely vigil in the forest'. However it is only part of the web we need to have in place to ensure successful conservation. As articles by Dr Jennie Miller have shown, bureaucratic actions such as paying compensation on time when a Tiger kills livestock can have drastic effect on retaliatory killings of the Tiger. As Dr Jennie Miller says "State Forest Department restructured its livestock compensation programme to reimburse owners within a month of their loss. Less than a decade later, renewed warmth is apparent between many forest guards and villagers". "The motivation behind their tolerance - respect and fear for nature reinforced in moments of crisis by financial compensation—offers lessons for conservation programmes across the planet"[3].

Less glamorous tasks such as bureaucratic efficiency and restructuring a compensation program will contribute to a situation where "not a single person, forest guard or villager, could recall a tiger or leopard killed as retaliation in the park within the previous five years of my visit"[3].

In many cases, the wildlife has been saved by unexpected sources. If life and history of India can be considered as a game of ‘Snakes and Ladders’, then these unexpected forces of conservation have been the ladders with which ‘we Indians have vaulted over the painful stages experienced by other countries, lifted by ladders we had no right to expect[2].

In the original book on 'Tiger-wallas'[4], Geoffrey Ward talked about the stalwarts of conservation in India. The Tiger-wallahs were charismatic and strong willed individuals who would walk into a meeting with the presence and energy of a thunderstorm over a landscape. India is still producing the next generation of Tiger-wallahs – the modern day saviours of India's wildlife – who have a Collaborative Leadership[5] approach which is more in tune with the reality of modern democratic India.

There are also other effective and equally powerful, but subtler factors such as grass roots cultural support for wildlife, pride in wildlife, rare occurrence of good governance, naxalites etc. which have proved to be just as effective at saving Tigers and wildlife as any charismatic Tiger-wallah of days gone by or a top-down conservation program.

This book is intentionally a positive book. 'An Ounce of Hope is Worth a Ton of Despair' [6]. The book informs, entertains, and hopefully inspires action.

'What to do' is a common expression of despair. This book has enough conservation success stories for all of us to emulate.

This book is not about defining or identifying ‘right’, or trying to find what is ‘right’ or trying to do the 'right' thing. It is about, as George Monbiot[7] says, 'Trying to be less wrong'.

* * *

Return of the Tiger is a book on conservation success stories from the Land of the Tiger.

It is a concise easy to read illustrated book about issues and problems related to wildlife conservation, and tried and tested solutions.

It is an interesting travelogue of visits to interesting places and a narrative of interesting incidents along the way.

The 5 journeys in this book cover major modern concepts such as Social Enterprises, Ecotourism, rewilding, reforming poachers etc.

It is illustrated with simple line sketches of important observations, events and actions described in this book. The intention is to illustrate events, observations and actions as sketches so that the essence of the message will leave a lasting impression on the readers mind.

This book is for everyone interested in conservation – the casual wildlife tourist with passing interest in wildlife, the wildlife enthusiast looking to do his part for the conservation and looking for ideas about what to do, people actively involved in conservation, and for people interested in travel books on India.

See list of chapters >>

1.) Valmik Thapar talks about state of India's wildlife

2.) Gita Mehta: Snakes and ladders

3.) Dr Jennie Miller: Live and let live

4.) Tiger-Wallahs: Saving the Greatest of the Great Cats

5.) Collaborative leadership

6.) An Ounce of Hope is Worth a Ton of Despair

7.) George Monbiot: Introduction