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Bandhavgarh National Park

Bandhavgarh National Park is located at Vindhya hills in Madhya Pradesh. Consisting of a core area of around 105 sq km and a buffer area of approximately 400 sq km, the terrain varies between steep hills and valleys, grassy swamps and forest. Formerly a Maharaja’s hunting preserve, Bandhavgarh is famous for its population of Tiger, considered to be the greatest number to be found in India.  
copyright Paul Goldstein

Since Bandhavgarh was declared a national park in the 1960’s, many measures have been taken to maintain the unspoilt natural habitat. A wide variety of wildlife can be found within the Park, including leopard, wild boar, guar (Indian bison), sambhar and spotted deer, sloth bear, porcupine and of course, the Bengal Tiger.

Bandhavgarh Tiger Appeal - Please Donate Today

copyright Paul Goldstein Since 2004 FOC have been working in conjunction with a major UK adventure tour operator to ensure the future of Bandhavgarh's tiger population. This park has one of the few remaining relatively stable populations of tigers. However this is no grounds for complacency because as poachers continue to ply their despicable trade elsewhere, targeting more accessible parks, they will soon turn their intentions here. The obscene trade in Chinese traditional medicine whether it be bear bile, ivory or tiger bone continues unabated, as does the now fashionable fur trade, especially in Tibet. Never before has this extraordinary cat required more assistance. 
As you leave the Park, you might spot a crudely painted sign depicting a tiger and an apology. "Sorry if you didn't see me," it says, " but don't worry - I saw you." Scant compensation if you've travelled thousands of miles to see the world's most endangered predator, but actually this is a place which you have a decent chance of spending time with this magnificent animal. For them to survive local people must benefit and over the last few years we have been working with the community to improve facilities at  the school which connects people to the Park.
There are thought to be 59 Royal Bengal Tigers living in Bandhavgarh and the first sighting invariably invokes gasps as well as tears, but it is difficult to tell if they are tears of wonder at this magnificent predator or tears of sorrow for a doomed species. 

A few facts: in 1907 there were over 100,000 tigers living in an arc extending from Siberia to Iran. A century or so later the population is down to less than 5,000, and it continues to fall. It seems as if tigers are simply too powerful, too dangerous and too beautiful to exist in the modern world.  The value of a dead tiger is around £20,000, and in a land such as India, where the average daily wage is just a few pounds, twenty thousand goes a very long way.
copyright Paul Goldstein
Then there's the indirect persecution. Tiger habitat is being lost through local people taking precious natural forest resources for firewood and allowing their cattle to graze freely in the park.  Anti-poaching patrols have had some success, but what the tigers really need is the awareness, support and, crucially, funds from visitors who understand that their very presence in the park enhances the lives of the local community. Here's why:
copyright Emma Richardson  

Previously children living close to the Park didn't have much to look forward to. Take Nisha and her family for instance. Work for her father was hard to come by and when her mother was sick they couldn't afford the treatment.  The local school had a leaking roof, no proper drinking water or toilets. 

Every morning jeeps full of tourists would pass by on their way into the Park, and she would see them each evening returning to their distant hotels, but they were irrelevant to her. And when a tiger roared, somewhere nearby, unless he was stealing her father's precious cattle, she couldn't have cared less.

But thanks to funds raised and the generosity of visitors, things have changed: 

The school roof is repaired, there are new classrooms, a staffroom, desks and chairs, a drinking water fountain and a well and a new toilet block.  And with staff appointed to teach English, the children now have opportunities previously not open to them.  

The Rangers who conduct regular patrols within the Park have a new Jeep and are better equipped in their ongoing mission to protect tigers from would-be poachers. New equipment includes helmets fitted with solar lamps to assist with searches and metal detectors to seek out snare traps.

The wider community has also benefited from the provision of an ambulance, attached to the local dispensary, enabling additional medical support to an area where the nearest hospital is some 35 kilometres away

One ongoing challenge has been how to meet the demand for cooking fuel and a practical solution has been to provide the community with gas cylinders, stoves and most recently, pressure cookers.  Over 100 families so far now have the means to cook with gas, meaning less wood is required. This helps avoid the need to go into the Park for wood, avoiding the risk of wild animal encounters. There's also less exposure to smoke from open fires and forest habitat is protected.  

Although much has been done so far, our work to support the Bandhavgarh Tigers and the neighbouring community will not stop:

The next stage is to construct a recreation hall and set up a library at Tala High school; provide additional  desks and stools for pupils and pay tuition fees for the English teachers previously appointed.   In addition we intend to supply the community with more stoves and pressure cookers and we also aim to get five solar powered water pumping systems in the Park itself to improve water access.    
Here's a sobering thought: with a little luck, Tiger Woods could be playing top level golf for years to come. His magnificent namesakes need a lot more than luck if they're to survive even the next decade.  You can choose get involved now, or you can hope that 'someone else' will do something. For now, Bandhavgarh has an acceptable tiger population, but if this precious charismatic animal is reliant on just this and a couple of other parks, what are we going to tell our children when the bloodline peters out?
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