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In 2008, a census of tigers in India sent a shockwave through the country. According to the National Tiger Conservation Authority, only 1,411 of the regal beasts remained—a far cry from a century ago when their numbers were believed to approach 100,000. Illegal trade, deforestation, and conflict between tigers and humans had set the animals on the road to extinction.
Prominent Indian mobile communications service provider Aircel took action. It partnered with several organizations to raise money, increase awareness and take other steps to reverse the decline. The population of tigers in India has nearly doubled since the campaign began.
“The numbers were disturbing” at the start of the initiative, said Sandeep Gandhi, Ph.D., Aircel’s head of HR, in an interview with
SHRM Online. However, more recent tiger survey results offer “very, very heartening news.”
India is home to at least half of the tigers on the planet. The tiger is the national animal and sits at the pinnacle of the ecological system. It is a symbol of national pride, much like the bald eagle in the United States.
Aircel partnered with several organizations in its efforts to bring the tigers back. With the World Wildlife Fund of India, Aircel set out to boost infrastructure and capacity at tiger reserves. “We work very closely with the sanctuaries,” Gandhi said.
The state of Assam and the Sunderbans region drew particular attention because they have concentrations of tigers but significant human-animal conflict. Such conflict typically occurs when human development encroaches into tiger habitats. Tigers struggle to find food and therefore hunt livestock, leading to retaliation. In addition, illegal hunting of tigers by poachers is common in these areas. Aircel and the World Wildlife Fund trained forest guards in anti-poaching measures and deployed high-tech traps to capture tigers that stray into human areas, preventing harm to the tigers.
Aircel joined with the Wildlife Trust of India to deploy special teams to work with communities to minimize tiger-human conflicts. In addition, forestry staff were provided with kits designed to reduce poaching. An Aircel partnership with media company NDTV has reached the masses with educational programming designed to raise awareness and funding. Save Our Tigers telethons were held in 2010 and 2012.
Another highly visible project in which Aircel has participated is called Kids for Tigers. The educational program uses the tiger as a symbol of nature and environmentalism. It has been conducted in schools in more than a dozen cities.
Through all of these initiatives, Aircel reports, it has helped place more than 40 rapid response teams in 35 tiger reserves and has revamped more than 1,000 anti-poaching camps, which help secure the safety of animals in reserves.
Gandhi said the campaign has involved Aircel’s employees, who contribute to the cause through employee engagement activities such as festivals, sports days and family days. In addition, celebrities come to Aircel to connect with workers in support of saving tigers. While the effort is not Aircel’s only corporate social responsibility program, “it is our single largest and most successful one,” Gandhi said. “And it will continue.”
Steve Bates is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area and a former writer and editor for SHRM.
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