His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales visited the Vazhachal Forest Division in Kerala on 12th November and spent time with Forest Department officials and conservation organizations including WWF-India to understand issues and challenges related to conservation in the Western Ghats. A visit into the forest was followed by interactions with community members, forest rangers and conservation NGO staff.
A major focus of WWF India’s elephant conservation programme in the Western Ghats landscape is managing the human-elephant interface. Immediate and longer term strategies to reduce conflict include developing and testing low-cost solar electric fences, strengthening community institutions to manage conflict, supporting policies to ensure the functionality of elephant corridors and building a better understanding of elephant behaviour.
In Kerala, WWF has helped the Forest Department to radio-collar two elephants from the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary that have been involved in crop raiding and is currently using satellite tracking to monitor their movements and behaviour with a view to providing information for conflict management.
At the Inspection Bungalow in Vazhachal, where a display on elephant conservation issues was set up by the conservation groups, WWF India’s Western Ghats Landscape Coordinator, D. Boominathan described challenges in managing human-elephant conflict, showed a short video of an elephant collaring operation and provided a demonstration of the tracking of elephant movement via satellite telemetry being undertaken in Kerala.
WWF India’s Programme Director, Dr. Sejal Worah also shared with HRH the results of tiger monitoring and protection in the Western Ghats Landscape, which have been captured in a series of stunning photographs. She described how an area in the landscape that was not known to have a significant tiger population has recently been declared a Tiger Reserve partly based on the evidence from the monitoring carried out by WWF. The Prince showed great interest in the outcomes and was particularly interested to learn how tigers could be differentiated on the basis of their stripe patterns.
In addition, Prince Charles also had the opportunity of interacting with the Kadar tribal community members in Vazhachal whom WWF-India has been working with over the last three years to further their capacity for ecological monitoring and to support them in setting up effective mechanisms for conserving and managing their community forest resource use areas. WWF India’s Tiju Thomas, who leads this programme in Kerala helped the Prince interact with the community and described how previously unsustainable practices such as wild honey collection have been modified to reduce their impacts.
According to Dr. Sejal Worah, “this visit of HRH to an area that not many people know about will be a tremendous boost to the conservation of the ecologically fragile and threatened Western Ghats. His inclusion of this forest visit and the interaction with the Forest Department, the conservation community and local people into his very packed itinerary demonstrates his support for the causes that WWF is working towards.”
Earlier, on 9th November, Prince Charles, in spite of a very hectic day, took time out to visit the Soonabai Pirojsha Godrej Marine Ecology Centre (SPGMEC) in Vikhroli, a suburb of Mumbai on the invitation of Mr. Jamshyd Godrej, President Emeritus and Board member WWF India, and his family. During the visit, he took a tour of a medicinal herbs reserve and a boat ride in the area, which is surrounded by rich mangrove forests. One of the major objectives of the SPGMEC is conservation of the local mangrove ecosystem through research, education, awareness building and regular monitoring. Mr. Ravi Singh, Secretary General and CEO, WWF-India was also present on the occasion. Later during the visit, Prince Charles met a group of school children and viewed the conservation work being carried out at the SPGMEC. The visit was widely covered in the Mumbai press.
The Prince of Wales has been a strong supporter of environmental causes and has been bringing to worldwide attention the alarming rise of illegal wildlife trade.