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Bringing the roar back to Telangana
| May 25, 2018
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Conducting identification of herbivore pellets.
Imran Siddiqui's journey, from visiting zoos to becoming a wildlife expert, speaks volumes of his one-track dedication and passion.
Perseverance could well be his middle name. Imran Siddiqui’s career chart beginning with selling poultry to raise money for wildlife, to becoming the man instrumental in getting Telangana its first tiger reserve, is one for the best-sellers.
Today, this young man who followed his passion for the forests and its denizens, is a member of the Telangana state wildlife board and on the tiger steering committee. He is also the external expert for tiger monitoring in both the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. He is the founder of the Hyderabad-based Tiger Conservation Society, besides being Assistant Director, Conservation Science at WCS India.
Imran is actively involved in the two states in scientific surveys for prey analysis, occupancy survey for all mammals, etc and also on various state level committees for wildlife conservation, initiating relocation programmes for people living in the forest, capacity building for forest department and influencing policy.
Working closely with the forest department and creating political will towards wildlife conservation is one of the crucial areas he focuses on. Whether it be for declaration of the tiger reserve, increasing area under Protected Areas, or to enforce a ban on hunting, his networking and lobbying worked.
But Imran knows that one can never rest. One of the major challenges he sees in the field is that of policy implementation. “This is most irritating as the policy exists but suffers owing to various reasons. One, we do not have monitoring or grievance panels to oversee things. The mitigation measures are in place but often are not monitored.”
While he does resort to advocacy and has been successful with the five PILs filed, Imran realizes that going to court is not the answer always. That is where one innovates and uses various tactics, he adds.
Thanks to his relentless efforts across five years, relocation programme for Gond and Naikpod tribes has been initiated in Kawal and Amarabad tiger reserves. In the former, around five villages with 230 people have shown interest while a total of 660 out of 1100 people from three villages have sought relocation from Amarabad Tiger Reserve. This was possible after much countering of the misinformation spread by vested interest groups, says Imran, while acknowledging the support of the forest department in the success of conservation programmes. His efforts have also ensured that cattle kill compensations are paid up within ten days.
Imran Siddiqui (left) with Killivalavan Rayar at Nagarjunasagar Srisailam Tiger Reserve.
The journey was not easy. In twists that almost took him off the course, Imran was tested quite a few times. But his interest never wavered.
It can all be traced to his visits to the zoo as a nine-year-old. “I would meticulously note down all details displayed on the boards, often not knowing what the words written there meant!”
It was an invitation by IFS officer P Raghuveer to join the tiger census at Eturnagaram that next saw Imran and his brother Asif get their exposure to the wilderness. “Contrary to my expectation of a sanctuary there were no animals at all. I was disappointed and try to meet many NGOs to do some work. No one was serious,” he reminisces. This led to the brothers founding the Hyderabad Tiger Conservation Society, HyTiCos.
A subsequent visit to the Srisailam Tiger Reserve saw the duo's attempt to work in the forest discouraged. But a stint during the 2002 tiger census at Kawal proved exciting as Imran sighted the pugmarks of a tigress and her cubs. It was enough of a catalyst for the youngster to resort to raising and selling poultry to make money to pursue his wildlife interest. A course on GIS at the JNTU, Hyderabad helped him find his way into the forest department as a researcher using the technology for wildlife habitat management.
Livelihood pressures saw him sell software to make money, till in 2004 he was taken in by the forest department as a project scientist. In 2004 during a line transect at Tadoba conducted by WCS, he happened to lay hands on the WCS tiger manual and got entrenched deeper in wildlife monitoring "the right way" as he calls it. A "painful" break of four odd years when he worked in Dubai, albeit with frequent trips to forests, helped with the finances but he was back in 2008 when he joined the M.Sc in Wildlife Biology and Conservation course offered by NCBS-WCS.
Imran undertook his dissertation project at Kawal under Dr. Ullas Karanth and Dr. Samba Kumar where he looked at the potential for tigers based on prey densities. This was followed by another brief stint with Wildlife Trust of India where he was involved in de-snaring with the forest department. This helped build the anti-poaching strike force at Kawal which saw the prey population double in three years.
Then began a period of intense lobbying where he worked with animal lovers and conservationists to revive a Legislative Assembly committee on wildlife and environment. “You need to pay attention to remarks made by a person, follow up on his family and activities to get an idea of the best approach before taking up any contentious issue,” says Imran who succeeded in getting the assembly Speaker Nadendla Manohar to reconstitute the panel.
In 2012, when the Kawal forest was declared a tiger reserve, it was largely owing to his dogged persistence. Not only did he have to work at the political level but also on the ground where lot of misinformation had led to dissent. Fear of eviction following declaration of the park as tiger reserve had caused the tribals to oppose the move. It had taken months of awareness-building to subdue the dissent and assure the political powers that there would be no fears of naxalism. Around this time, Imran joined Wildlife Conservation Society, India.
Today, HyTiCos has a 400-member strong volunteer base, boasts of 60 members and works in over 7,000 sq kms across the two states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. In partnership with WCS India, it has conducted capacity building of over 2000 forest staff, besides taking part in intelligence gathering and advocacy.
To a query on his best moment in the field, Imran has no doubts. “It was in 2015 when we knew for sure that there were a good number of tigers once again in Kawal Tiger Reserve. The next year the sighting of pugmarks of cubs in the corridor areas came as further affirmation.” All this coming after the preceding disastrous years when tiger numbers had dropped drastically, (owing to suspected poaching by tribals fearing eviction) came as a validation of the declaration.
But things are not always positive. He remembers what he calls as one of the worst moments when a waterhole was poisoned killing all the fish and amphibians. Luckily many of the herbivores were not affected. Challenges will be there, but for this conservation scientist, routine is what kills. Not challenges, which he is game for.
Written by Jayalakshmi K