WWF-India has piloted various conservation projects to enable the blending of conservation with sustainable development.
1. Tiger conservationWWF-India has been working on tiger conservation in the Sundarbans since the launch of the Project Tiger in 1973.
A. Research and Monitoring
WWF-India has been monitoring wildlife movement through camera traps in the Sundarbans since 2010. Tiger estimation exercise in partnership with the National Tiger Conservation Authority and State Forest Departments, WWF-India collaborated with the Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve to conduct the first ever tiger estimation in the 24 Parganas (South) Forest Division. The results of this study helped the Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve in taking a decision to declare 556 km2 area of reserve forest as a wildlife sanctuary, increasing protection in the Sundarbans by 33 per cent.
WWF-India has also been working with the Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve to develop a prey base estimation methodology to estimate the density of prey available in the Sundarbans to support its carnivore population.
B. Human-wildlife conflict mitigation
WWF-India has installed solar street lights along the periphery of 42 fringe villages in the Sundarbans in consultation with the Forest Directorate. This combined solar street light system ensures the involvement of the local communities, as a home light connection is provided to a beneficiary, thereby making the household responsible for the maintenance of the entire unit. These street lights keep the boundary of the village well lit, thereby discouraging wildlife from straying into the villages.
In cases where tigers have strayed into the village and need to be rescued, WWF-India assists the Forest Department in the rescue and rehabilitation exercise. WWF-India provides technical support such as in the designing and manufacturing of light weight traps and transfer cages to be used in such operations.
C. Promoting climate resilient sustainable livelihoods
In the Sundarbans, 85 per cent of the population is dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. The staple crop cultivated is paddy, for consumption within the household as well as sale. However, the high yielding paddy cultivated is vulnerable to flooding of brackish water. As a result, the villagers are unable to practice agriculture and are forced to depend on collection of forest products for their livelihoods.
Salt resistant paddy cultivation
In 2008, WWF-India introduced Talmagur, an indigenous salt tolerant variety of paddy which could withstand salinity and be harvested despite flooding of brackish water. The success of this variety of paddy has led to its adoption by a large number of farmers, and also penetrated the local markets. This has ensured the villagers can retain their primary livelihood activity, and avoid further dependence on forest resources, thereby curbing forest degradation and conflict situations.
In partnership with the West Bengal University of Animal and Fishery Sciences, WWF-India has identified fish species which can withstand salinity in the waters of the Sundarbans. Farmers are then trained to cultivate these species.
D. Support to Forest Department
WWF-India regularly provides technical inputs to the Forest Department towards management plans, development of scientific methodology for research, training and workshops for staff, and implementation of conservation strategies. It has also assisted in the development of high-tech, light-weight tiger trap and transfer cages to be used in rescue operation, which are beneficial to the animal as well as the team using the cage.
E. Disaster rescue and relief
The Sundarbans region is vulnerable to the changing effects of climate change, and prone to natural hazards, such as cyclones and floods. Given the sudden nature of such events, the Forest Department needs immediate support to control the situation and help the stranded wildlife as well as local communities. In 2009, when the cyclone AILA hit the Sundarbans, WWF-India helped in joining a network of organizations called Inter-Agency Group (IAG) and coordinated between the Forest Department and IAG, providing crucial information to the group about the immediate needs in the severely hit regions. Relief supplies such as food, water, tents, blankets, first-aid kits and medicines, and lanterns were sourced from different stakeholders and delivered to Sundarbans.
2.The Climate Witness ProjectThe Climate Witness initiative was launched in the Sundarbans to record first-hand accounts of climate change by the local people for a better understanding of climate impacts to help in policy change and advocacy. It was formally launched at the 10th conference of parties of the United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Buenos Aires, Argentina in November 2004.
This project helped in the documentation and communication of the changes and adaptations that the community members are facing environmentally, socially and culturally as a result of climate change. Under this project, 28 climate witness stories were recorded which were analysed and a climate witness report was published.
The findings were later validated through scientific research carried out by School of Oceanographic Studies, Jadavpur University with support from WWF-India. This helped in the identification of islands vulnerable to climate change. The school also carried out a micro-spatial vulnerability assessment of the Mousuni island, which helped in designing interventions such as salt-tolerant paddy cultivation, raised bed vegetation cultivation and reintroduction of fish species tolerant to a wide salinity range.