All it took was five seconds in a tiger reserve to put things in perspective for Hans Dalal. Dalal, a former sound engineer, choose passion over stability when he decided to quit his career in music and commit to a cause much bigger — conservation of the tiger and the habitat of the tiger. His journey since then has been an intriguing and humbling one. From being a tiger conservationist, to a documentary filmmaker, to making a music album with poachers and tribal communities and using the proceeds to conserve the tiger habitat, to starting his own NGO called PROWL, his efforts have been stellar.
On International Tiger Day today (July 29), we spoke to Hans Dalal to learn about his cause and to understand how we can support it.
IB: What prompted you to quit a lucrative career in music, to take up an unconventional one in wildlife conservation?
On a trip to Kanha I saw a tiger for five seconds. I couldn’t get the sight of the tiger or the forest out of my head. Anyway, my studio wasn’t doing too well at the time, so a year later my partner and I decided to shut it down. However during that year, I had already begun to research about tigers and the conversation issues that existed. Once the studio was shut, I decided to get into wildlife conservation as the sight of that tiger would not leave me. I managed to get in touch with Fateh Singh Rathore through a family friend and began volunteering with his NGO in Ranthambhore.
IB: Did cerebral palsy affect your work?
While living with cerebral palsy is a normal way of life for me, it does bring a few limitations with it. For example, in music I found it difficult to punch in and out in time while recording. While practicing photography, my hand shakes so only 2 out of the 10 pictures I click would be in focus. In conservation, sometimes people don’t take me seriously. But having said that I’ve also managed to come across some very dedicated forest officials who don’t think of me as any different and trust and believe in the work that I do. It’s people like this that give me the motivation to carry on.
IB: The tiger population jumped from 1,411 in 2006, to 2,226 in 2014. Yet we keep reading of tiger deaths that could have been avoided. Are we doing enough?
In today’s scenario, unfortunately the rise in tiger numbers is not really a good sign. Reason being, most of our tiger reserves have reached their carrying capacity and tigers are now spilling out of these safe havens and coming even closer to humans in reserve forests and corridors, and that is where the conflict happens. There are lots of people living in these areas who enter the forest to collect firewood or to relieve themselves, as even though toilets have been provided in many villages. This is what they have been used to, and thus continue doing so in spite of the positive efforts of the government and forest departments. So, unless we are able to provide larger habitat for our wildlife, conflict numbers are only going to increase day by day.
IB: While filming your documentary, what did you learn about the poachers and tribal communities in relation to the tigers in that area?
While filming with the Moghiyas (a hunting tribe), we noticed that they are not very different from you and me. They are basically doing what they need to do for survival, in the only way they know of. They have been hunters and gatherers and have lived off the forest for generations. One day their way of life became illegal and thus they were termed as a criminal tribe. Also, the caste system in India wasn’t very helpful either as they were made outcasts and denied a chance to be a part of the society or to learn any new skill sets in order to earn a living. So when a few people came forward to help them, they were very receptive and many of them changed their old habits. In fact it isn’t that they have any kind of hatred towards tigers or wildlife in general — hunting was just their occupation and thus a matter of their bread and butter.
IB: What kind of conservation activities does your NGO PROWL undertake?
PROWL works along with the forest departments and local communities. We understand that it isn’t physically possible to save an animal. But we can save it from being harmed. So, it is important to educate the people who live in the periphery of forested areas and make them understand the importance of tigers and wildlife for the entire eco-system. Simultaneously, we facilitate the forest departments who are the true guardians of our forests, in their efforts to monitor and protect wildlife through camera trapping, by surveying areas experiencing crop predation and finding solutions and by working on conflict issues. We also provide the departments with amenities to support their work such as uniforms, self-purification water bottles, medical kits, etc. Furthermore, we are also working on an organic farming model, so as to avoid the usage of pesticides as far as possible, which will have long-term benefits for our environment.
IB: How would you suggest the millennial population participated and helped in environment conservation activities remotely?
I think it’s important for millennials to firstly take an interest in these issues. They need to realise that these are real problems and they aren’t going away anytime soon. Collective efforts are needed even to make the slightest impact. While we do see a considerate part of today’s youth fighting for some social cause or the other, we need many, many more to join them. Awareness is key. That is really the first step of everything. If a person is aware, it’s only then that the desire to do something about it can arise. In fact environmental and conservation issues are so critical today, that in my opinion, they should be included in school/university curriculums.
Image Credit: Animalsadda