National Parks? You mean to say it is a park owned by Govt. of India? I was asked this question by a person who had no idea about our forests and protected areas. I laughed at first. However, the reality hit me. Perhaps tourists think it is another park and a picnic place and start defiling it. Why not name our National Parks as National Wildlife Preserves?
Well, cynical that we have become, you will ask what’s in a name? After all, a rose by any other name smells as sweet. I agree with the great poet Shakespeares words, afterall we call it gulab in Hindi and it still smells as sweet. However, with reference to wildlife conservation, I would disagree that nothing is achieved by a name change.
To understand this issue, first look at the way our wilderness places used to be managed. Shikar or hunting was considered as a sport. If you haven’t shot a tiger – a leopard won’t do – then you were not considered as equals in the sporting clubs. A few forests had got protection from the erstwhile maharajas as they had limited the shikar to themselves and for their royal guests. Hakaa, (aadi in Oriya) or beat was carried out in a patch of forest by people walking in a single file - at times captive elephants were also used – beating a bush or tree here and there by their stick or axe forcing the animals to move towards the hunters waiting in a machan. Even after shooting was banned by the Govt. these beats were conducted to push tiger and other animals towards VIPs. Infact, these sightings were supposed to be the criteria to judge the best protected area. Fortunately, those beats have been stopped, but the idea to entice the tourists by some of these methods in one form or other remains.
Once, I was proudly told by one of the Field Directors that his “park” earns 2 crores of rupees in a year. The focus remains on tourists and not on conservation. And the word park has been deep seated even in the brains of our forest officials.
It is quiet natural that the tourists, a majority of whom have come to the jungle for the first time expect to be in a circus. Our tour operators include Ranthambhore or Bharatpur, to name a few, in the tourist circuit. So the casual tourist - doused in liberal doses of perfume or “scent” as it is referred to and gaudy clothes that would put to shame a young dancer in a bollywood movie - comes for a day or even half a day to these National parks and expect to get a ring side view in this “park”. Needless to say, the olfactory organs of the animals, especially the herbivores with a keen sense of smell, would be tortured to say the least. And the noise they make, the garbage they dump in the forests, the less said the better.
As we have seen in successful strategies adopted by various organisations, a change of name often means a course correction and signifies a break from the past. It is often seen that a suitable name goes a long way in conveying a sense of direction. At a time, when our National parks have lost their way and are trying to outdo each other in attracting tourist traffic, forgetting their foremost duty of protecting the wilderness and wildlife and undertaking long-term ecological interventions; a name change will definitely bring focus back on the lost priorities. It will remind the field director as well as the official joining the forest service about the priorities. As far as the layman is concerned, I am sure the word National Wildlife Preserve strongly conveys the meaning in no uncertain terms.
I am convinced changing the name from National Park to National Wildlife Preserve would bring focus back to wildlife and protection and can act as the first step in transforming our wildlife management.