The Thar Desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert, is located mainly in India, with a small part in Pakistan. Of the four states in India, Rajasthan holds the largest part of the desert, spread over twelve districts. The desert is home to wildlife such as the chinkara (Gazella bennettii), desert cat (Felis silvestris ornata), desert fox (Vulpes vulpes pusilla), spiny-tailed lizard (Saara hardwickii), species of vultures, trees such as khejri (Prosopis cinereria) and ker (Capparis decidua) among several others and the largest population of the critically endangered great Indian bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps).
Being a long-ranging species, the survival of the Great Indian Bustard (GIB) is tied directly to the lives of the local communities, with both being highly dependent on the desert/semi-arid landscape. Over the last two years, WCS-India has been working towards conserving the species around the Desert National Park (DNP) in the Thar in Jaisalmer district. Our experience has reinforced our philosophy that conservation efforts would be most effective through engagement with the local community and other stakeholders. Hence to achieve the conservation goals of the programme, we needed to shift our focus from a wildlife-centric approach to a more holistic landscape-level approach by working closely with the local stakeholders in the Thar desert.
In this effort, we have expanded the scope of our work towards the conservation of the critical Thar desert landscape by making this shift. Our “Desert Landscape Programme - A Community-based Conservation Approach in the Thar” reflects this mission.
We aim to build pride among the local communities towards the desert and its wildlife and celebrate this unique landscape and the people who call it home. Through a participatory approach, we intend to form stakeholder networks and involve the local community in various outreach and community-supporting activities to strengthen conservation initiatives in this landscape.
Livestock is a significant income and nourishment source for people in the desert. We facilitate veterinary camps to provide primary preventive care for livestock in remote dhanis (herder settlements). Since these dhanis are not easily accessible, the veterinarians in our team also engage in discussions about basic animal-keeping practices for the better health of their livestock.
Beris are traditional wells in the Thar desert that support thousands of people, their livestock, and wildlife. Often these beris become dysfunctional due to lack of maintenance. We assist in beri reconstruction, ensuring it is shared among herders in remote areas and allows access to everyone.
We engage with children to create awareness and foster pride towards their region's birds and other wildlife using game-based activities such as bingo, canvas painting, collage, music, and storytelling. We have developed four modules with varied themes conducted in each school throughout the month.
Schools are a great place to engage with children; however, the schools in villages often need teachers. Based on the request of the Pradhan, we are working in collaboration with the district education department to hire tutors in schools who are individuals from the local community within the village with appropriate qualifications.
We hope this community-based conservation approach creates more opportunities for further participatory wildlife conservation in the Thar desert. We believe this approach signifies the potential future of conservation efforts in India: where the intricate dynamics and interdependencies between human communities and wildlife are recognised.