By Ananya Mukherjee, Vulture Safe Zone Coordinator
Green fields, huge blue skies, dusty roads greeted us as we moved from Pinjore to Uttarakhand where we (my colleague Toby and I) set out to visit our first provisional vulture safe zone site around Ramnagar area. A conservationist, with a basic training in anthropology and sociology has given me a unique advantage in understanding the human dimensions of conservation. Conservation science I realised was incomplete without a holistic understanding of the extraneous factors that play a significant role in making these programmes function or not function properly. It is the continuous dance and interplay of numerous actors who invisibly and at times visibly pull strings from behind the scenes that make efforts like conservation a huge challenge.
I was caught in between such strings off and on. I am of Indian origin but have been living in England for more than a decade now. This has given me a unique position in the Vulture conservation project especially in the Indian subcontinent. It has its own excitement and challenges. The insider-outsider feeling is strong. An Indian who lives abroad but works in conservation in the Indian subcontinent not excluding the gender issue has its unique advantages and disadvantages. Speaking the local language endears people but can sometimes create a precarious situation for the individual subjected to such a situation. The insider feeling (one of us) was soon replaced by the alien feeling that she belonged to an international organisation and therefore the ‘outsider’. The constant tension between the guarded insider and the unguarded outsider was intense during the initial days of my visit.
And I had to constantly remind myself that I am here to build bridges for the vultures. Just as a bricoleur joins heterogeneous pieces to create an innovative piece of work, I was consciously joining hands with different groups, individuals and organisations in order to build a bricolage i.e. a vulture safe zone for the vultures in the near future. A long drawn process which would require teaming up with different groups of people, organisations and institutes, I realised, as I travelled from one place to the other in pursuit of my “Save the Vulture Mission”.
It was a cold winter morning when we set off from Pinjore, the Bajrigar hotel, which had become our temporary safe haven in the last few days. A huge cacophony of noise greeted us with the blaring horns of the traffic as our vehicle swerved into the main road. A bright warm sunshine kissed our cold unsure faces assuring us with the promise of a bright new day. Thus began our journey into the adventures of an uncharted route towards fresh new vulture territories, new faces and unknown bridges.
Bridges because I realised that one needs to build them continuously along the way, may not necessarily be with cement and mortar but with words, trust and positive vibes. Such was the nature of work I was entrusted with as the Vulture Safe Zone Co-ordinator. And only to ensure that the vultures can soar high up in the sky once again.
Our first stop was Ramnagar which was originally known as Ramsynagar. It was named after Commissioner H. Ramsay who had settled in the region around 1856-84 when the British had set up tea gardens in the area. It is the gateway to the Kumaon hills and is also the entry point of Corbett National Park which was historically India’s first national park.
Upon reaching Ramnagar, which was the first site in Uttarakhand we were invited to participate in the World Wetland Day on the 2nd of Feb. This meant counting birds and spotting vulture colonies at the same time. It was a day full of excitement and adventure for me as I was able to see the white backed vultures in its nesting colonies for the first time around Ramnagar area. The initial thrill was in spotting and identifying the vultures and this was followed by counting the number of birds and the nesting areas. I promptly started taking pictures of the white backed vultures in their nesting sites and am sharing with you some of the pictures that I had taken around the Corbett national park area. I was also delighted to see some of the nesting sites of white backed vultures in the subsequent days in and around Ramnagar area.
Soon after this, my colleague from BNHS and I were caught in front of the camera. An impromptu stint, where we were asked by the local press about the purpose of our visit to Corbett and Ramnagar. Although nervous, I was quick to pick the opportunity to publicise the vulture issue alongside my BNHS colleague. The diclofenac issue was prominent as it was a good way to reach out to the locals about the negative impact of its use on the vulture population of the region and the relentless effort of RSPB and BNHS to try and protect these threatened species from going extinct. The news was published in one of the local newspaper and a short interview by me and my BNHS colleague was also telecast in one of the local channels in Uttarakhand. I guess the ball is rolling now! The first brick has been laid for the Vulture Safe Zone now.
With thanks to Save Our Species for their valuable sponsorship, which helps us carry out this essential work. For more information on the SAVE consortium and its work, visit www.save-vultures.org/
By Toby Galligan, Conservation Scientist
Veterinary diclofenac is banned in India, but 30 ml vials