Sunayan Sharma, former field director of Sariska National Park and now president of NGO, Sariska Tiger Foundation is retired but can never disassociate himself from wildlife and its conservation. Wildlife, especially tigers have been part and parcel of his life. On the occasion of Wildlife Week, Iram Tasleem talks to him about his new book Sariska : The Tiger Reserve Roars Again and comes back more enriched about some unknown interesting facts about the amazing park.
What inspired you to write this book ?
Sariska is one of the most outstanding reserves in our country. It is a jewel of the Aravali range blessed with the numerous exotic species of flora and fauna like wild boars, golden jackal, leopard, hyena, reptiles, birds apart from big cats. It is also home to the largest number of sambhar (Deer) and peacocks. Sariska is also the only existing dense forest in the state which is spread over an area of 800 sq km, with the core area being around 500 sq km. It is the last tract of Aravali forest which is natural, without any artificial impregnation.
Apart from its ecological significance, it has numerous ancient temples, forts and many ruined structures, each of which have their own story to tell. Like Bhangarh fort is known as most haunted place in the country. The Bhartrihari shrine narrates the historic tale of king Bhartrihari who turned saint, the Kankwadi Fort where Dara Shikoh, brother of Aurangzeb was imprisoned for several years, Bhageshwari Mata temple, Pandupole temple, Nahar Sati temple, Nilkanth Mahadev temple etc.
In Sariska, the Archaeological Survey of India had also excavated a double story market known as Ajabghar market. Sariska’s forests has great medicinal value due to its rich exotic species of fauna.
Unfortunately Sariska doesn’t get the kind of tourists like Ranthambore does. Not much has been done to promote its tourism, beauty and significance. So I grabbed the opportunity to tell people what Sariska is all about. I felt that I must share the whole story from its tigerlessness to its remaking.
Tell us about your book and why should people read it?
My book is divided into three sections. The first section is to acquaint the readers with the forest reserve in a manner that after reading it, visitors would begin to look at Sariska in totality, would appreciate the natural beauty around and give up their traditional tiger centric approach. And would inculcate curiosity to explore the entire forest reserve.
The second section is about the debacle that had never happened anywhere in the world before. It is about Sariska losing all its tigers along with many interesting experiences and hitherto unknown facts and incidents. The book mentions many anecdotes. One of them being that a former union minister whose son is now a BJP MLA, had suggested in a public meeting at Sariska that land reserve should be distributed amongst villagers for farming as Sariska had lost all its tigers.
I have tried to give details about how political intervention became a real stumbling block for me. Then villagers along with the said MLA had come to my house armed with lathis and laid siege to my house. They made me captive when I tried to follow constitutional norms. I have talked of my struggles as a field director. I had to fight at various fronts like officials, politicians, villagers, tourism lobby, marble mine owners and tribals. More than a dozen times I had to approach the Supreme Court.
The last section manifests the rehabilitation of tigers in Sariska from Ranthambore National Park. Interesting accounts and facts like vehement opposition to the relocation plan are in the book. I have tried to write in a way which would be useful and interesting for forest managers, nature lovers, students and and wildlife enthusiasts.
Prior to it, many books have already been written on similar issues. What makes this book different from others?
Yes, you can find some books on tigers but perhaps it is the first book which throws light only on Sariska Reserve. As a field director, I have lived in Sariska for several years and I have penned down my first hand experiences on the field. My book is simple in style and language but has a unique flavour and content, completely based on facts. The book highlights the contribution of forest staff in tiger\animal conservation, who are the unsung heroes. Nobody acknowledges their hard work but they play a key role in maintaining the reserve forest and facilitates visitors’ safaris. I had named vantage points in the forest on the names of deserving forest staff like the 500 feet high vantage point is named as RP Point after forester Ramprasad. Likewise Malhotra Point, Nemi Point. These are my small tributes to these conservation heroes. So next time one visits Sariska after reading the book, one can look for these unique vantage points.
Do you feel writing books on tiger/wildlife would lessen the problems that occur in the wild ?
I feel society must be motivated to conserve nature. People should become aware about the problems forest staff face and how hard it is to safeguard our natural assets. May be reading such books would inspire the common man to think that one has put in one’s own efforts for conservation rather than leave everything for the government.
Do you intend to write any more books on wildlife or anything other than wildlife ?
I am planning to write my next book on Keoladeo National Park, another beautiful forest reserve which has been able to withstand serious threat to its existence due to lack of water. Factual and objective books on wildlife are few. As I have spent my whole life in jungles, I feel I am duty bound to bring the facts before the people and enrich them with my experiences.
Do we really need more tourists in the parks? Is the revenue that is being earned actually being spent on tiger conservation?
As far as revenue is concerned, tourists are always welcome but what I feel is more than tourism, we need eco tourism. In eco-tourism tourists willingly follow the forest’s rules and regulations. Only those who are genuinely interested in nature and want to explore it should be welcome. Not the kind of tourists who come to Sariska for just tiger viewing and turn back from short distances. Revenue being earned from tourists is government’s revenues. Thereafter the government allocates the money for tiger conservation in its budget. Many times it happens that government allocates a very small amount of revenue for conservation efforts.
How would you see the contribution of NGOs in the conservation of tigers?
There are two types of NGOs, those who are genuinely concerned with tiger conservation and and works dedicatedly The other type are those who exist for name sake for vested interests.
But yes if NGOs want to work sincerely, they can achieve a lot. They are independent organisations free from restrains unlike forest officials. They can raise their voice fearlessly against wrongdoings. When I was posted in Sariska, I had rejected an application from a priest who wanted to perform 100 kundiya yagya inside Sariska. My seniors called me Nastik ( those who do not believe in exsistence of God).
What about VIPs visiting the parks and arrangement of special tiger viewing for them?
Most of these special arrangements are made on order of politicians and senior officials. Many times rules are broken but few VIPs have genuine interest or offers help for development of forest reserve. But if you want some personal help from them, you have to oblige these VIPs.
Man-animal conflict is very closely related with Sariska, it is been a major issue for forest authorities. So what suggestions would you give to overcome it?
Sariska has 28 villages in its interior areas and 300 villages on its boundary. This is not a new problem. And the many temples inside the park which are visited by humans daily, stand as symbols of peace and harmonious coexistence between man and animal for ages. I strongly feel that for years man and animal have lived together harmoniously and it is possible now too if locals and administrators become sensitive towards nature.