Wildlife tourism in India is evolving day by day. Thanks to all the impressive species that call India home, including tigers, leopards, elephants, and much more, tourists want to visit the national parks and sanctuaries found in Gandhi’s country. However, birds also play an important life in the Indian ecosystem and thanks to some dedicated people like Mister Harsh Vardhan, they are starting to receive the respect they deserve.
So, ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to introduce you to the wonderful Harsh Vardhan, a person who has decided to dedicate his life to wildlife and especially birds, a wildlife expert who fell in love with nature from an early age. For me, he is just another reason to love India and its amazing people.
Kindly introduce yourself and let readers know some critical aspects of your life so far.
My name is Harsh Vardhan, and I am an Indian, busy in wildlife conservation and responsible tourism for the past few decades. Before this, I used to have a job in an industrial development corporation. I am currently based in the Pink City of Jaipur and proud to be part of the wildlife tourism in India.
What does it mean for you to work in the segment of wildlife conservation in India?
It gives maximum satisfaction, which I think I cannot receive in any other programmes. Working to conserve wild species means enabling people to live a more efficient life. If we all make our small contribution, the entire global population will only gain benefits at no extra price. We need to be aware of the importance of national parks in India and to protect the wildlife sanctuaries in India.
How would you describe the conservation projects in India? Do you consider that there is enough effort invested in wildlife in India?
As a matter of fact, immense awareness has been generated on the conservation aspects in India. The commitment of the Government is also visible, but unfortunately, it appears more efficient on paper than in real life. This is probably something applicable to governments all over the world. However, the private sector is doing better and better for individuals, as well as non-profit organizations that have created beautiful examples and projects. So, in my opinion, the environment and the wildlife conservation efforts in India are on a positive trend.
Tell us about Jaipur’s Man Sagar lake project.
The Man Sagar is a 400-year-old artificial lake in Jaipur, one of the tourist places in India. It’s a heritage place of which the people of Jaipur are proud. Unfortunately, it had been receiving the waste of the city through the sewage system, which is not adequately checked by the competent authorities. It’s a typical scenario in India when the authorities lack sufficient diligence to prevent such happenings.
As such, the water quality deteriorated to such an extent that people were forced to use a handkerchief over their noses while walking along the 1.5 sq. km lake. The stench of the lake was horrifying for years. So, something had to be done and fast! We started the Indian Birding Fair at the Man Sagar Lake to educate citizens and decision-makers back in 1996. It enabled the authorities to decide about the lake’s restoration. As a result, from 2004 and until 2011, the lake got its well-deserved restoration. Now there is no sign of stench there. And the water quality has significantly improved.
The monument in the center of the lake called Jal Mahal, or the Water Palace, has also been renovated. It is an excellent example of a public-private project partnership in which our group also participated. I am glad to say the lake today is a study-case for restoration presented all over India. The main lesson derived from this project is that people can do a lot once they decide to do so.
It is important to realize the connection between tourism in India and saving the environment. The moment you invest more in the environment and in the wildlife, the tourism industry in India is guaranteed a boost.
Give some good examples of projects in India dealing with wildlife
The Project Tiger started by the Indian government back in 1973 is an excellent example of the magnificent Indian tiger conservation programme. It has had an incredible success and has helped increase the numbers of tigers in India. Nowadays, thanks to this unique project, tigers have started to breed outside designated parks, and the number of poaching cases is decreasing. It’s important to protect these animals and invest in tiger reserves in India to keep them safe. But there are also conservation projects to help a range of animals such as crocodiles, tortoises, rhinos, elephants, deer, and leopards. In all projects, private initiatives play an important role.
What made you decide to invest so much of your life in birds?
Wild mammals live in sanctuaries and national parks where we cannot enter and walk on foot due to rules and regulations. And it is also very costly to use jeep safaris to work inside, although I love to do that as well.
However, birds are all around us, especially near the many water bodies found all over India. So, we work on their conservation at less cost and greater ease. And although birds are found everywhere, starting from our homes and our private gardens, they are given less importance than the mammals. And for sure there are far fewer bird sanctuaries in India than ones dedicated to other Indian animals. But they actually play their role in helping people live better quality lives. And they inevitably bring a smile to my face.
Why do you think that birds are sometimes overlooked compared to mammals? Do you think wildlife tourism in India should focus more on birds?
Surprisingly, birds are more appreciated in traditional Indian society. For example, the act of offering them food grains is a practice followed to this day all over the country. However, more people should know and try to understand more appropriately as to which birds are to be fed daily and which birds are becoming almost like pest through their excessive feeding. A blind approach is not something which we encourage. We try to educate people so that they respect the birds and treat them accordingly.
Comparing birds with other animals depends on the approach you want to take. For example, mammals are larger, and there are a lot of beautiful and fascinating species out there. So, people become fascinated by them, by the fact that it is easier to get near there. Whereas birds are everywhere, so they are too used to them.
Of course, I would love to see more wildlife tour packages focused on birds and perhaps even increase the Rajasthan tourism by creating more tours that help tourists discover the birds and the wild animals in India.
Which are the most significant problems with which wildlife deals in India?
Unfortunately, poaching is still the primary threat. For example, even in the recent period, poaching cases appear. Two tigers were poached at Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve in mid-2018. I suspected they were poisoned by villagers. That’s because they lived outside the designated reserve territories so they would attack the domestic cattle. Of course, this infuriated the cattle owners and the villagers, so they killed them.
The forest authorities called it – death due to infighting between two tigers. We vehemently opposed the statement and demanded a fair investigation. A part of the dead animals’ liver was sent for forensic tests. The result was no surprise to us – poisoning. So, a new inquiry is now to be instituted.
Human-animal conflict is the next major issue. The animals’ habitat loss is, of course, a threat for all species and it often results in human-animal conflicts. Humans are building at an accelerated speed, they are invading the habitats of so many species. Of course, the animals, not used to human presence, will try to defend their territories. But unfortunately, they seldom lose this battle.
We also need to pay attention to the development of tourism in India, especially to the wildlife tourism in India to make sure it doesn’t affect the species. There are a lot of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in India, but they need to be treated with care and respect, have strict regulations with respect to tourists and organizing safaris inside the parks. Yes, perhaps for most foreigners they represent tourist destinations in India; but they also represent home for numerous important species.
What would, in your opinion, be the necessary steps which all people should do to better protect wildlife?
Respect the law, live life on an ecosystem approach, make less cemented constructions, use more natural material instead. People should start to learn again how to admire the trees, the grasses, the shrubs, the bushes, wildlife in general. Only by observing and respecting it will nature regain its beauty and will be able to revive again.
But the government should also be more involved. Any project becomes more difficult when the government allows too much chaotic development. Specific rules for the development of Indian areas should be put in place and then make sure that they are observed by everybody.
Name a few interesting facts about birds in India which people are not aware of
Most birds consume insects. If birds are gone, insects will start living in our beds, rooms, and kitchen. We can quickly get invaded by insects in the absence of birds. So by respecting the open space, the green lawns, the grasslands, the water bodies, we appreciate the ecosystem and ensure a better life for everybody. If we throw rubbish everywhere, birds can catch diseases and then become extinct.
An example of how our behavior affects birds is the crisis with the vultures. Their numbers have dramatically decreased because of a painkiller used for cattle. The culprit was diclofenac, a substance often used for treating various inflammation which has now been banned for its use on animals. Once the vulture starts eating from the carcass of an animal that was previously given diclofenac, it gets poisoned.
What are the national parks and sanctuaries in India which you would recommend for watching wildlife in its natural environment?
Strangely India has 600 sanctuaries and national parks, 50 designated Tiger Project forest reserves and numerous lakes, as well as an impressive seashore. India is also home to some well-forested zones like the Himalayas, the Western Ghats, the Central Indian forests and the North East Indian areas. However, only about 50 of these areas and parks are offering visitor-friendly facilities. So, there is a massive gap between nature destinations and facilities created therein.
For tigers, other mammals and birds, Ranthambhore National Park, Corbett National Park, or Kaziranga, Bandhavgarh, and Satpura reserves are the most attractive ones. For bird watching, Bharatpur (Keoladeo National Park), Corbett-Nainital, Nameri-Kaziranga, Sultanpur (near New Delhi) and some village water bodies in Haryana are ideal. A great wildlife safari can be enjoyed in Ranthambhore National Park, a remarkable tiger sanctuary in India.
It is also remarkable that India offers its biodiversity with a stunning mix of cultural experiences. Believe it or not, responsible and wildlife tourism, which we practice and offer, is like a sleeping giant in India. The more you tap and buzz it, the more you are guaranteed to wake him up and thus obtain better results.
If there is anything else which you would like to add, please feel free to do so.
If you are interested in cultural tourism in India, I would recommend exploring the Bishnois, a fascinating people found in Rajasthan. They represent a 15th-century old religious sect inviting people to conserve nature and offering a great example to all of us. They are still followers of their natural precepts and respect the environment with remarkable kindness and openness. And visiting their homes can also offer a glimpse of the rural tourism in India, which is seldom overlooked.
And I invite everybody reading this to come to our annual event, the Indian Birding Fair, which we have been organizing ever since 1996. Each year our projects obtain better and better results and allow us to continue our conservation efforts for the birds in India.
Note: I would like to thank Mr. Harsh Vardhan for all the wonderful photos published in this article. He wanted to show us just how beautiful birds are