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'Jumbo' on and off the field - Anil Kumble's take on wildlife conservation and more

Bahar Dutt
5th Aug 2015
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ANIL ‘Jumbo’ Kumble

One of the deadliest spinners of his time, this former Captain of the Indian Cricket team, is more than just a famous sportsperson. Few know that the humble, Anil Kumble stands tall for his achievements off the pitch – in the field of wildlife conservation. Kumble combined his nickname and passion for wildlife into one and set up the ‘Jumbo Fund’. As he admits he wanted to do something more than just visit a forest and click pictures. The Kumble Foundation – Jumbo Fund strives to raise funds and recognize the contribution of forest staff, NGOs and individuals working for wildlife conservation.  But he’s candid, it’s not easy running an NGO, it’s difficult to raise funds and sometimes he has to dip into his own money to run the organisation.


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That he is serious about wildlife was acknowledged by the Karnataka government when they appointed him as Vice-chair of the State Board for Wildlife in 2009. The Wildlife Board is a statutory body set up under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 that advises the government on policies related to conservation. During his tenure he admits proudly, they were able to bring more areas under protection for wildlife, a rare feat at a time when most states are chopping forests for roads and highways. Deeply committed, earnest and yet well aware of how difficult wildlife conservation can be Anil Kumble reveals in this interview how it all started and why he goes on despite all odds.

HOW DID THE JUMBO FOUNDATION HAPPEN

I wanted to give back to society at some point, and, particularly, the thought of being a part of wildlife conservation has always existed. However it was necessary to do so in an organized manner. Hence along with my wife, Chetana Kumble, we set up the Kumble Foundation and the associated Jumbo Fund in 2009-10.

The purpose of setting up the foundation was to primarily focus on wildlife conservation; as well as support other pertinent causes such as prevention and treatment of cancer.


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Since its existence, a major initiative taken through the foundation, with the support of Kiran Majumdar Shaw, has been an award and felicitation ceremony for forest staff and officials in Karnataka – rewarding those who have been involved in the service of wildlife conservation.Another successful initiative was a funded 2 week programme in South Africa, where 4 talented forest officers were selected to visit and study the challenges of national parks in South Africa; particularly to gain an understanding of their methods of treating injured animals; gain insight into tranquilization techniques, as well as to study their approach to manage human-animal conflict.

The foundation also supports pertinent research and projects; with a recent such study being the research on the effect of non-native introduced species in Andaman Islands

Going forward, the vision for the foundation is to expand its horizons beyond Karnataka, and support causes at the pan-India level. The foundation also endeavours to delve into culture, arts and spiritual causes in the near future.

CHALLENGES OF FUND-RAISING

It certainly hasn’t been easy to raise funds for the foundation; and at times some of the initiatives have had to be funded personally. However being a recognised personality does help in being accepted, and to create awareness. Cricket as a medium cuts across various barriers; and am privileged to be in a position to have relevant support and access.


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Even during my tenure as Vice-Chairman of the Karnataka Wildlife Board, the recognition and respect that came as a cricketer has certainly helped in driving conservation and protection benefits to the forests. Those wishing to set up an NGO should definitely follow their dreams. With India being such a large country with its fair share of issues, every small step is a wonderful thought. Hence touching lives through a cause one is passionate about must be commended and encouraged.

HIS STINT AS A POLICY MAKER FOR WILDLIFE


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I am very grateful to the Karnataka government to have been given the opportunity to serve on the board. I thoroughly enjoyed my stint, and was pleased to have driven some commendable initiatives during the tenure.We were able to substantially increase the wildlife protected area – from 3.8% to over 5.2% – making Karnataka the only state to increase its protected area coverage in India. With lot more protected cover being added, we were able to give far more relevance to sanctuaries, conservation reserves and national parks.

Staff welfare was another key agenda during the tenure, and we were able to add staff to wildlife and fill up vacancies, which itself had been a challenge in the past.

The entire experience was extremely enjoyable and fruitful. I do not like to look at the frustrating parts of the job, but focus on the positives. I enjoyed working with the team, and received great support from fellow colleagues as well as the government officials.

WILDLIFE TOURISM, BOON OR BANE?

The primary role of the forest department is protection, and majority of the time should go towards ensuring the habitat is protected. However, currently, a significant amount of time is spent on managing tourism and related issues. Hence I strongly feel that the tourism aspect of the forest department needs both, a separate wing as well as a specialised skillset. Additionally, we must remember that the department should ensure an enjoyable experience for the tourists as well; hence a separate force can certainly enhance the same. Tourists do add to conservation problems at times, hence far greater awareness is needed to reduce the damage. That is why, I believe, a separate force will be able to enforce and regulate tourism activity much more effectively, which in turn will enhance conservation as well as the tourism experience.

YOUR FAVOURITE NATIONAL PARK

It is difficult to pick one; however by virtue of the fact that both Bandipur and Kabini are closer to home, I have visited them more than the others, and thoroughly enjoy visiting both the parks. Kanha is another favourite. In essence, I can’t name one, but just love the forests in general.

FAMILY, WILDLIFE AND CRICKET …

I have always tried to take out the time to visit some of the parks, and generally family holidays end up being around one of these parks. The kids are also aware that come holidays, their father will be planning another visit to a national park. They love the wildlife as well, which helps aligning our holidays to wildlife!

Photo credits – Anil Kumble

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