Have you ever seen a rhino walking into the African sunset? It’s an unbelievable sight. Now let me ask you this- have you ever seen a carcass of a dead adult rhino with its horn sawn off and the body lying on the dusty ground? It is an unforgettable and tragic sight.
The world’s wildlife is under a grave threat of either being slaughtered or captured alive. The wildlife commodities -- whether an ivory tusk, a rhino horn, live birds or reptiles -- are illegally moved through well-organized transnational supply chains and sold in international markets where consumers are willing to pay a high price.
Global Environment Facility
In extreme conditions, a human can survive three minutes without air, three days without water, and three weeks without food. To support a global population that has grown to 7.5 billion, the demand for these essential natural resources is increasing, leading to deforestation, habitat degradation and fragmentation, overgrazing, and over exploitation.
In the quest to survive and thrive, humans have already converted 38% of the world's land area for farming; in addition, we have deforested land for industry, mining and infrastructure, leaving less than 15% of the world's land area as terrestrial protected areas for biodiversity conservation. If there is so much human pressure on protected areas, where can the remaining populations of elephants, big cats, and other wildlife go in search of their own food and water? A rich maize harvest, an unprotected paddy field or a well-fed cow in the surrounding landscape would (understandably) seem irresistible. This conflict over natural resources, especially land and water, is the root cause of human-wildlife conflict.
In 2010, 15 days after graduating from college, with nothing but a backpack and an old water bottle, I stood in front of a large gate with a rusted sign welcoming me to the “Pench Tiger Reserve.” The same reserve that inspired Rudyard Kipling’s, Jungle Book. None of the mock interviews or standardized testscould have prepared me for the job at hand. I was there to set up a small nonprofit whose mission was to involve youth from the local community near the tiger reserve and instill in them a love and passion for the environment. Specifically, instill in these young minds a commitment to safeguard the 41 tigers that roamed wild in the reserve.
As a 21 year old, my employers were entrusting upon me this responsibility based on a simple philosophy – if you want to inspire young people – give the opportunity to someone young! In the two and a half years that I spent in the reserve, with the help of the forest department, three local schools and community members, we were able to invite leading conservationists, teachers, innovators and environmental enthusiasts to conduct hands-on workshops with children aged 10-16 from within the community. Every workshop answered questions on the importance of environmental protection and the rationale behind how simple, local efforts can have positive impacts globally. These curious minds absorbed knowledge like sponges and within a few years, we had the next set of forest protectors and tiger champions. They are influencers in the community and are currently involved in small enterprises that help the local economy and preserve the tiger habitat in and around the Pench Tiger Reserve.
Since leaving the Reserve, I have been active in many youth groups around the world. One such organization is the 2041 Foundation whose mission is to provide leadership training to young people especially from developing countries to help preserve the environment. As a part of this training, on an expedition to Antarctica, I was able to see firsthand the effects of climate change on our fragile ecosystems. This experience had a profound influence on my commitment to conservation.