The house in which we live in Goa has a tall TEAK tree growing straight and proud in the middle of the garden. Yet, our doors and windows are made out of the wood of the jackfruit tree – they call it 'jackwood' here – because teak is unaffordable. Jackwood invariably warps. Our doors and windows do not shut properly. There is only one reason why teak costs so much here, where it grows wild: government restrictions. I cannot cut down the teak tree growing on my own property: I need permission from the State.
I have seen this phenomenon in other parts of the Western Ghats too: for example, in Coorg, where a coffee estate owner complained to me that he could not cut rosewood and ebony trees growing on his estate. Even mahogany grows naturally here. So, while I am in full sympathy with Barun Mitra's crusade to save the tiger by farming it, I do believe these arguments will ring true only if we begin at the bottom of the environmental pyramid – by farming trees.
As far as wildlife is concerned, instead of beginning with tigers, we could begin with deer and wild boar. Deer can be easily bred in ranches. So can wild boar. When these efforts at commercializing timber as well as wildlife succeed, the arguments for farming tigers will be better received. In the meantime, do reflect on the fact that the most valuable tree in the world – sandalwood – can also be easily farmed in this region.
When Veerappan was murdered in cold blood by the Karnataka police, I was the only one to call for free-market sandalwood farming. These are the best ways of preserving nature and taking the profit out of poaching. Think about it.