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Searching for solutions
Posted on January 21, 2011
Hi everyone! Nazneen is back again with news from the Sundarbans Tiger Project (STP).
The Communication team of our project has been doing a Knowledge, Attitude and Practise (KAP) survey since last July.
The last phase of this survey requires us to conduct structured questionnaires with urban dwellers and semi-structured interviews with three target groups at the local level: deer poachers, deer meat eaters, and poison fishers.
Our team of four, namely Iqbal Hussain, Travis Child, Rezvin Akter and I divided into two groups and started for different regions. While Iqbal and Travis headed for the Sundarbans to interview the rural people living adjacent to the Sundarbans, we, the ladies went from city to city to interview urban respondents.
The three cities that we have covered so far are Khulna, Chittagong and Barisal while Dhaka, the capital, is yet to be completed. We had used GIS mapping software to randomly select 100 points in each city and recorded the GPS readings of those points. Before leaving for the field we saved those readings in our GPS and moved accordingly. At whichever location the readings appeared close we took the interview there.
Every day we could manage five interviews at five different places. The GPS locations that fell under the randomly-selected GIS points were bizarre indeed! There were times when we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere, meaning there were no human settlements and no people around, only vast sandy land… More than once in Chittagong the locations fell in the middle of the sea.
Then again there was a time when halfway through our interview we were thrown out of a residence by a bad-tempered, old man. He was furious because his wife was giving an interview instead of cooking! Amazingly our very next respondent turned out to be a very warm, friendly man who took us into his home and even offered us snacks. A contrast indeed! We had also recruited some volunteers to help us with the job and their enthusiasm is really praiseworthy.
You may wonder why we need to interview the urban dwellers about the Sundarbans and tigers, when these people neither live near the Sundarbans nor have anything to do with the forest or tigers.
However, that is exactly the point that we are trying to explore – we want to see what impression people have of the Sundarbans and tigers though they live far away from the forest. We want to find out if they consider these two to be national assets and whether or not they would like to conserve them.
Most importantly our survey questionnaire also tries to explore people’s perception about environmental matters in general, for example: what and how much do they understand by the terms “conservation,” “environment,” “eco friendly”, and “biodiversity”? How much importance do they give to environmental issues?
Do they currently engage in any environmentally-friendly practices? And so on. Investigating these additional factors is just as important because almost all the threats to tigers are directly or indirectly linked with human behaviour. People’s responses to these questions will, to some extent, reflect the habits and practises of their daily lives and will give us clues on how to improve the behaviours that are threatening the environment.
After three weeks in the field, visiting four villages in the Sundarbans, Iqbal and Travis returned to Dhaka. While Iqbal looked as healthy as ever, Travis had a burnt nose and a need to not eat rice for a long time. Nevertheless, both had a completely refreshed outlook on their work. In Travis’s words, “We’ve been planning, debating, reading and writing for much of the last nine months and the three week visit to the Sundarbans brought everything into one nutshell somewhere inside my brain.
It’s a nutshell that’s absolutely fizzing with activity: webs of corruption; extreme poverty; heart-wrenching life stories; murder; desperation and desperados; lawlessness; no-mans-land; organised crime… the list goes on. It reminds me a little of old western films – where guns are synonymous with power and power is synonymous with law. So whoever has guns, or access to them, or connections with the people who have them, are in luck. Whoever doesn’t is plum out of luck.”
It is clear that in case of the Sundarbans communities, those who are out of luck have to resort to whatever means necessary to get that day’s food for themselves and their families. And that often means poaching deer, or using poison to catch fish. In the words of the locals, it’s ‘royal meat’, and in the words of one man, eating this royal meat made his life: ‘jibon dhonno’!
Have we got a big job ahead of us? Yes!