February 2006: What you love. What is precious. What you hold dear... you must protect. So. The questions must be asked. “Do we love wild nature? Are our forests, rivers, coasts and mountains precious? Do we hold our natural heritage dear to us? And do we wish to secure these assets for posterity?” If so, the price we must be prepared to pay is ‘eternal vigilance.’
This means that when we sleep at night, or go to the movies, or watch the next cricket match, someone, somewhere, will have to man the trenches, braving rain, snow, heat and dust to prevent people from stealing what we cherish.
This would include marauders who cheerfully kill tigers, elephants, blackbuck, even butterflies for profit. It also includes businessmen seeking to sell bauxite out from under a tiger’s paws, or those who would damage the habitat of millions of olive ridley turtles off the coast of Orissa.
The two forest guards you see patrolling their beat in the mists of Kaziranga, are on the hit list of international poaching syndicates. They are, in my view, the keepers of our threatened Eden. Every child. Every patriot. Every human whose heart beats for wild nature owes these forgotten Earth Heroes a debt of gratitude.
But gratitude is not their lot. Nor is the dignity and honour they so richly deserve. Instead, all too often, they are physically and psychologically attacked if politicians and financial heavyweights perceive their loyalty to be tilting towards wild nature rather than commerce.
There is more. Apathetic governments expect guards to patrol without shoes. Fight poachers without weapons. Confront the elements without protective clothing. And if they shoot back at poachers, more often than not, they must pay for their own legal defence when accused of ‘attempted murder’ by well-connected gangs.
Sanctuary will be 25 years old this year. We intend to hold no celebrations. Instead, we intend to redouble our effort to improve the lot of forest guards and rangers and we will support the work of field biologists like Dr. Ullas Karanth of Wildlife First and conservationists like Amit Jethwa of the Gir Nature Youth Club. This is the mandate given to us by one million Kids for Tigers, the youngest, most inspirational and most legitimate new force for nature conservation in tomorrow’s India.
Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXVI No. 1, February 2006