Park Management, Land Use Patterns and People's Perceptions: The Case of Desert National Park, Rajasthan, India

"The Thar Desert is currently witnessing an intensification in the use of its natural resources. Human population growth, increased livestock numbers and State development policies have changed the land use patterns. The combined effect has led to ecological imbalances of resource degradation and depletion. As a part of a conservation endeavour which includes creating protected areas, the Government of Rajasthan, established a sanctuary in 1980, and named it as the Desert National Park (DNP). Desert National Park is part of a network of protected areas in India, where 'wildlife and the environment' are provided with legal recognition, for their protection, propagation and development. "Presently, there are thirty-seven villages within DNP that are dependent upon the same natural resources that are being protected. In this paper, attempt has been made to document local resource use, including people-wildlife interactions, and people's attitudes towards park management and conservation. The objectives further included to find ways and means to resolve these possible conflicts based upon people perceptions, participatory approaches and sustainable land use strategies. The study was exploratory in nature and has therefore relied upon primary data collection. This information was attained through seventy informal personal interviews, group meetings and discussions, vegetation transects and direct observation. "The results of the study revealed that agriculture has displaced animal husbandry as the major source of income, and as the locally preferred type of land use. The local awareness of DNP as a protected area is limited even after a long time, due to weak information flow in both directions. The livestock population shows positive growth over the past three decades and a proper grazing management system is lacking. "Protection measures enacted by DNP management include not providing any further land allotments to local people, and to fence off areas within the sanctuary to prevent access for agriculture or livestock grazing. These activities are creating local dissatisfaction toward DNP management. Wild animal depredation of agricultural crops and livestock has previously not been documented. This fact was reported by the majority of respondents during the field study, and can in the future become source of further conflict. "There is lack of involvement of local communities in DNP management and as a result the state has not succeeded to achieve the set working plan objectives. A majority of the respondents favour conservation but not at the expense of being restricted to resource access. It is suggested that an integrated approach be applied to manage DNP and should involve local people combining DNP conservation efforts with sustainable development. The paper concludes that a clear definition of property regimes and change in policy is essential to enhance the success of conservation in the Desert National Park."
IASC, land tenure and use, parks, wildlife