It is not uncommon to hear about stories where native dwellers of forests are asked to relocate in the name of development or in the wake of an area being declared as a wildlife reserve. In some parts of India, this particular issue is intense. The rights of native tribes are highly debated.
When Parambikulam was declared as a Tiger reserve and opted to spread eco-tourism, the Forest Officers had a different vision.
The native tribes initially made a living by cutting and selling timber trees from the forest. This was the only occupation known and practiced by them for a very long time.
As step one, they were taught the detrimental effects of cutting trees and the imbalance it caused in the system. They were made to understand the importance of their contribution towards conserving Parambikulam and its wildlife. Men and women from various tribal communities were trained as guides, assistants, cooks, guards and much more, creating employment for all families residing in the forest.
This participatory model ensured collective progress. During an interaction, many of them shared their stories with great passion about the place they grew up in, wildlife, their jobs and forest officials who have improved their lives in many ways.
This participatory model is an excellent example of conservation and responsible eco-tourism. I Hope these practices will be noticed and followed everywhere.