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Knight commends Indian villagers saving tigers and climate

Defra : 05 February, 2006  (Company News)
Biodiversity Minister Jim Knight today congratulated villagers in northern India who are helping to save the world's climate as well as their own endangered tigers.
Jim Knight visited Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan, India, the home of the endangered Indian tiger. The tigers' habitat had been shrinking because the surrounding villagers had relied on the Park's trees for wood to cook with. Demand had exceeded sustainable supply and wood was being taken illegally.

There were even lawsuits between villagers and the Park over allegations of trespass for wood collection and animal grazing. With the local population growing at a rate of 3.2 per cent per year, the problem could only get worse unless a sustainable solution could be found.

400 biogas digesters have now been installed in villages on the Park's fringes. The digesters use cattle manure to produce biogas for cooking, avoiding the need for wood. The waste slurry is used as organic fertiliser, which is better and cheaper than commercial fertiliser, producing good crops and saving money.

'The immediate needs for human survival were in urgent conflict with the preservation of a unique ecosystem, ' Jim Knight explained. 'And the villagers received little or no benefits from the large numbers of tourists who visit the Park and so had no incentive to avoid damaging it. Nor did they have any reason to be concerned about the future of the tiger.

'You cannot blame people who are struggling to survive for trying to make a day-to-day living from whatever comes to hand. So conservation plans must include local people, as well as animals and their habitats.'

Using biogas instead of wood for cooking also helps to slow climate change by reducing the amount of carbon - and other products of incomplete combustion, released into the atmosphere. Each digester saves about 4.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.

The women in the villages have particularly benefited. Biogas is a cleaner and safer fuel for cooking so their kitchens are now cleaner and freer of smoke. Smoke inhalation in third world kitchens is a major cause of eye disease, respiratory illness and premature death in women. Another bonus is that they no longer have to make extensive journeys into the Park for wood, which was predominantly done by women and sometimes involved a round trip of 20 km.
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