Monday, June 14, 2010

Preview: reusable shopping bags made by the Sawra Self-Help Group

In an earlier post "A stitch in time" I wrote about the sewing course SF organized in Sawra in collaboration with Pratham's skill centre. Click here to read about it.

One of the first items being made by the Sawra Self-Help Group is reusable shopping bags. This is the design they are starting with. Each bag can be folded away into a small pouch that can be easily carried in one's handbag or pocket. The bags will be made from different fabrics, some waterproof, some durable and also some made of handwoven and hand-dyed fabric. Proceeds from this product will go directly into the bank account of the Sawra group and will not be routed through Satpuda Foundation. Each bag will have a tag on it explaining that it was made by Gond tribal villagers living in the Pench tiger landscape.

The first batch of bags should be in Mumbai by end July or early August. We'll keep you posted.

All images: Kirti Chavan

In the tiger's footsteps...

I took this picture on a brief but exciting walk to visit a waterhole in the forest near Tadoba-Andhari TR. The water body was created by the SF team with the participation of local villagers.

Water conservation projects are high on the activity list of all our field officers. Click here to see some waterholes and stop dams built under our programmes.

Two friends accompanied Bipasha and me, so including our Conservation Officer Bandu Kumare we were a group of five. Bandu used to be a park guide earlier so he knows a lot about wildlife and the forest.

On all my trips to Tadoba I've looked at the forest from the road and wondered what it's like in there, among the teak trees and bamboo clumps. What does it look like to a bear or chital living inside?

Now I know! It's dense and paper-dry and pale yellow at this season, and visibility isn't very high so as a human you really wouldn't know what might come out from behind the next bamboo thicket. (Other mammals wouldn't always be so handicapped, since they have far better senses of smell and hearing than we do!) Bandu pointed to a gaur that he glimpsed through the vegetation and we saw three chital bounding away, startled by our arrival. Inquiries about what animals had deposited some of the scats lying around brought forth the answers "bear" and "tiger" (pronounced by Bandu in a cheerful matter-of-fact tone, with varying reactions from our group).

So we know that all these animals use these forests and benefit from the waterhole. The site is regularly visited by the Forest Department so it does get monitored. You can see their machan (platform, for want of a better word) up in the tree behind the waterhole. It's a good feeling that we are providing a much-needed drinking spot for the fauna here. Anyone who has visited the Vidarbha region in May would understand the relief the water must be bringing to the animals of this parched place. The water level in the hole has sunk but is still accessible.

There isn't any real danger to people walking in a group in the middle of the day, but all the same none of us really wanted to encounter a bear or tiger or gaur on foot. And neither did we want to disturb the animals by intruding in their space. So after a few minutes we walked back to the road.

I think for all of us that walk will remain one of the most memorable experiences of this wonderful trip.

Photo: Rajashree Khalap
Tadoba-Andhari area

Driving course for youth near Tadoba-Andhari TR

These young men live in the villages Moharli and Dewada, in the Tadoba-Andhari tiger habitat. They are part of a group of 20 that recently participated in a driving course we had organized for youth of the area. The course was conducted in collaboration with NABARD and was one of the ongoing activities of Satpuda Foundation's Employment Cell. By teaching forest villagers different skills we empower them to earn better incomes and phase out their traditional forest-destructive occupations.

The driving course was completed in May and on the 31st Bipasha and I happened to be in Tadoba, so we requested SF's Conservation Officer Bandu Kumare to arrange for us to meet some of the participants. I took this picture in the SF office near the Moharli gate of the tiger reserve. These young men are: Vikas Gedam, Dashrath Choukhe, Sainath Garmare, Baburao Moharle, Diwakar Kulmethe, Sachin Sirani, Sachin Marwati, Bandu Kulmethe and Mahindra Kannake. Their ages range between 20 and 28 years.

Most of the men are currently working as field labourers, which would earn them a pittance. Some are in the business of supplying bamboo for a paper mill in the area. Cutting bamboo in the peripheral forests of the reserve has proved to be an extremely damaging and dangerous activity. These forests are used by all the same wild species that live inside the protected area (see the next post about our waterhole visit). Bamboo cutting and general dependence on forest resources not only severely degrades the wildlife habitat, it also sends a large number of humans right into a forest that is occupied by tigers, with predictable results. Small wonder that the Tadoba/Chandrapur region has become the worst tiger-human conflict area in India in the last few years, with a large number of people losing their lives and tigers then being poached in retaliation.

Driving is a useful skill to learn and one that could earn these men good livelihoods. It would be ideal if the park management would ban tourists from bringing their own vehicles into the reserve. Local villagers like these could then earn a good income by driving tourist jeeps and gypsies and that would also serve to regulate tourist movements and behaviour. Most important of all, jobs like these would ensure that locals benefit directly from tiger conservation.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Volunteering opportunity: NCSA Mobile Health Unit schedule, June - October 2010

I've posted this schedule in its original table format, as that is the neatest. Please click on the image to enlarge and read. If you'd like to volunteer please email me on rajashree DOT khalap AT gmail DOT com

Tiger meets gaur: face-off in Tadoba

An encounter between Tadoba's two mightiest beasts turns out to be a lesson in sensible and civilized behaviour!

June 1, 2010: temperatures had nearly reached scorching point at 48 degrees C. A large male tiger had taken to regularly soaking in this waterhole. On one visit he found a huge male Gaur had got there first. The tiger's dilemma was fun to watch. Even the king of the jungle does not lightly take on the world's largest bovine. We could see the debate raging in his brain: should he go to the water or not? At first the gaur's lowered head and loud snort were a deterrent (the snort made me jump too). But not for long. The cat made two attempts to go to the waterhole but changed his mind halfway. The third time he decided to take the plunge.

Gawking from a respectful distance were SF volunteer Bipasha, Aarti Phatarphekar and me and a few other privileged people. Needless to say we were all amazed by our wonderful luck!