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Turning the Tide
Published by Rupa Gandhi Chaudhary, Dhiresh Joshi, Aniruddha Mookerjee, Vivek Talwar and Vivek Menon, 01 Dec 2008
A decade ago, the world's largest fish, the whale shark, was slaughtered commercially in large numbers along the coast of Gujarat in western India. The hunting continued even after its listing in the Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, in 2001. However, three years of concerted campaigning since 2004, by WTI, Tata Chemicals Limited and the Gujarat Forest Department, has turned Gujarat's whale shark hunters into its protectors.
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The whale shark campaign is one of the stellar conservation stories that have come out of India in the past few years. To take a fish that was hunted and traded in the scores and was virtually unknown in the conservation community of India and in the short span of three years to transform it into a legally protected species whose hunting was a story of the past is remarkable. Equally remarkable is the fact that the fish has achieved an iconic status as Vhali, the loved one in Gujarat with thousands of schoolchildren painting it, celebrating its arrival with plays and street drama, and with six towns on the western coast of India declaring it their city’s mascot. And to add to the glittering array of conservation successes, is the act that over two dozen fishermen have done in separate incidences, of cutting their fishing net, and freeing an accidentally snared whale shark into the ocean. Such has been the turnaround that the Gujarat government has declared a whale shark day, an official celebration of the arrival of the shark into Indian waters and also declared a compensation scheme for fishermen who dare to snip through the nets that is their sole livelihood with the intention of protecting the whale shark.

What is equally charming about this story is that this has been achieved with a unique partnership of a set of NGOs, the Wildlife trust of India and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Gujarat government through its Forest Department and the provider of resources, Tata Chemicals. This tripartite partnership then worked with
local communities to achieve this nice story. It laid on the foundation of the Indian government’s resolve to protect the fish, through its listing on the Wildlife Protection Act and its sponsorship of its CITES listing, by making real on ground, a paper protection given to the shark a few years ago. It also translated into reality the conservation saga that Mike Pandey had envisioned in his award winning documentary Shores of Silence that visually captured the hunting for the first time or Fahmeeda Hanfee’s research that produced a TRAFFIC report of the same. Turning the Tide is a readable account of three years of this exciting conservation success. It is  undoubtedly one of WTI’s crowning jewels in 10 years in the service of nature.

Sujit Gupta
Vice Chairman, WTI
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