Richmond premiership stars Nick Vlastuin and Toby Nankervis travelled to India last month as part of the Tigers’ official conservation partnership with WWF-Australia.
WWF-Australia Ambassador Vlastuin has now visited two countries through conservation efforts with the organisation.
He details the latest trip below…
Being involved with WWF I have been able to do things that I would have never thought to do, and my recent trip to India was another unreal experience.
Sitting in the back of a Jeep looking for tigers in the wild is pretty cool, and it’s been quite enjoyable learning more and more about the species since our partnership began. It’s great having the WWF guys there with us, and I end up just asking them questions all day.
I always felt like I was asking something dumb, but their answers always showed how complex tiger conservation was.
‘Fridge’ (Jack Graham) who came with me to Sumatra (in Indonesia), had to pull out of this trip late, so I was trying to figure out who could step in, and Nank ended up jumping at it straight away.
He actually got to see a tiger as well which was the best part about the trip. We went to Sumatra to see tigers too, but since the jungle was so thick you could only see 10m ahead, so it was unlikely.
In India they worship cows, so tigers are kind of mythological to them, and the Indian government has managed to find a way to protect the species and develop a tiger economy around tourism that generates incomes and jobs for local people and is also able to cover the costs of management and protection of tigers.
It’s different in Sumatra, where the locals without always meaning to be, have become a big problem for the tiger species. They end up burning the forests where they live to make space to plant crops, and with the huge dollars on offer for poaching this has become difficult to manage.
So, I guess the idea of going to India was to learn how tiger conservation was such a success there, with the idea of pushing that back into Sumatra.
A big aspect of it is simply just education- like telling people not to go into the jungle by themselves or herd the cows up at dusk. As part of that, we were able to go into some schools with WWF to teach the next generation about tigers and tiger protection.
While we were there, Nank and I brought the footys out and tried to have a kick with the kids, but unfortunately, they were pretty scared whenever the ball came near them and most of them ran away.
Cricket comes more naturally to the kids, so we got playing that and Nank and I had a bowl to a few of them.
I was keen to have a bat, so I decided to come off the long run for a few balls and managed to pick up a wicket.
The kids were probably only 8-11 years old, but they were quite good. This one young fella was bowling to me and hitting the spot, but he was probably a bit too slow, so I started slogging him which Nank thought was the funniest thing ever.
The kids were loving it and all trying to catch me, but all our crew including the WWF guys were bagging me out about it for a few days.
It made for some good banter and I just kept saying that the kids had to learn one day. I probably did crush that one kid’s career aspirations though, so India might be down a fast bowler in 10 years!
We were only three weeks out from the start of preseason while we were over there, so I made sure I went for a few runs, and took a WWF guy and one of the travelling corporates with me.
It was pretty crazy running around in a tiger reserve, and there were signs up warning people about tigers being around, but in the back of my mind, I kind of knew I just had to be able to outrun the others.
The locals all walk around in there anyway, so I was fairly certain we were safe, but it was nice to have some reassurance.
When we did see a 150kg female tiger from inside the Jeep it was pretty chilled and just ignored us, but we also saw some cubs which were more inquisitive.
For the next trip, we will either go back to Sumatra with a completely new crew or to Northern India/Bhutan.
Russia has also been mentioned but we might struggle to get that one across the Club because it involves camping in -40 degrees.
It’d be pretty fun hooning around in snowmobiles following tiger paw prints though, so I will hold out a little bit of hope.
In the meantime, I will keep in touch with Ash who I have become good mates with (WWF Human Tiger Conflict and Landscapes Lead, Dr Ashley Brooks) and look for opportunities where we can continue to raise awareness and funds to help tigers.
A group of our coterie members have come together with the Club to raise funds for a Tiger Patrol Unit, which is amazing and will go a long way to helping the effort to save Tigers.
We would love it if Tigers fans got on board to help us save Tigers, so our friends at WWF-Australia have created a special offer exclusive for Tiger fans. Visit https://www.wwf.org.au/richmond-tigers-offer for details on how you can help.