Home Magazines Cover Story The Good Fight – The Sanctuary Wildlife Awards 2017

The Good Fight – The Sanctuary Wildlife Awards 2017

The Good Fight – The Sanctuary Wildlife Awards 2017

Erudite and articulate, Valmik Thapar has spent the past two decades leading conservation battles at every level imaginable. He has served on over 150 committees of both central and state governments. Photo Courtesy: Valmik Thapar

What an exquisite world we live in. Everyone knows, of course, that our planet faces threats, but what is heartening is the manner in which large numbers of bravehearts have begun to look upon protecting the species and habitats around us not as some kind of charity, but as the very purpose of their lives. Our superheroes come in different avatars – forest officials, policy influencers, lawyers, writers, educationists, activists, scientists, orators, artists and children. These are nature’s spokespersons who are determined and committed to making their dreams come true... of leaving behind a planet that someday will not need protecting from our own kind. The Sanctuary Nature Foundation honours these inspiring dreamers and promises to support them every step of the way.

LIFETIME SERVICE AWARD

We were in search of a true hero – someone whose life’s purpose and respect for nature could be held out as an inspiration to the youth of India.

Valmik Thapar
Tiger conservationist, author and wildlife protector

His formidable reputation and fierce demeanour match that of the world’s most charismatic cat. A cat he’s spent over four decades tracking and protecting. A cat whose story he has taken to the world. And so it is that when you say ‘tiger conservation’, scarce is the nature-lover who won’t immediately think of Valmik Thapar.

Thapar’s love affair with the tiger began in Ranthambhore in 1976, when as a young man he was taken under the wings of that other doyen of conservation – Fateh Singh Rathore. Together, mentor and protégé spent days, weeks, months and years tracking the fortunes of the park’s tigers – recording rare behaviour, documenting unbelievable footage, and, most importantly, creating and implementing the management strategies that have made Ranthambhore the premier wildlife destination that it is today.

In 1988, even as Ranthambhore began to flourish, Thapar recognised the need to engage and uplift local communities, and thus founded the Ranthambhore Foundation, whose work he guided until 2000.

Erudite and articulate, Thapar has spent the past two decades leading conservation battles at every level imaginable. He has served on over 150 committees of both central and state governments, where his booming voice has never been quelled by either the sloth of bureaucracy, the greed of unethical government employees, or visionless politicians. His influence has been expansive, and though today he works almost exclusively in Rajasthan, with the state government, he has been instrumental in the revitalisation of other parks such as Maharashtra’s beloved Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve.

Thapar has also been vocal in eschewing the dogmatic view that all tourism is bad tourism, and is a leading proponent of innovative tourism that can benefit both parks and people. All this, he firmly believes, is only possible by knitting together a cross-sectoral group of like-minded people including scientists, activists, village leaders, forest officials, bureaucrats, politicians and the free press.

Author of 32 books, including four on Africa, presenter of 16 international documentary films, and an excellent orator, Valmik Thapar’s gruff genius is what it took for India and the world to sit up and acknowledge the tiger’s magnificence, its predicament, and the urgency for conservation.

And for this, we honour him.

WILDLIFE SERVICE AWARDS

We were in search of inspired wildlifers, forest employees, researchers, villagers... anyone currently involved with in situ nature conservation who have displayed extraordinary courage, dedication and determination and set high personal standards for others to follow.

Jayachandran S.
Fearless warrior, activist and visionary

Jayachandran S. has been at the forefront of the fight to save the Nilgiri and Sathyamangalam landscape in Tamil Nadu’s Western Ghats for over three decades. Photo Courtesy: Jayachandran Shunmuganathan

A seasoned warhorse, Jayachandran S. has been at the forefront of the fight to save the Nilgiri and Sathyamangalam landscape in Tamil Nadu’s Western Ghats for over three decades. It was in 1990 that he started the Tamil Nadu Green Movement and, ever since, this people-powered initiative has stemmed the onslaught of unscrupulous industries and the timber mafia on this global biodiversity hotspot.

Jayachandran has taken offenders to court with unwavering tenacity, opposing the construction of new roads such as the one along the Mettupalayam-Mulli-Ooty route in 1998-99; the widening of the Hasanur-Kollegal highway that runs through the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve and the  Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Tiger Reserve; and campaigning against encroachments to secure the Kalllar-Jakkanarai elephant corridor in the foothills of the Nilgiris. These early victories saved thousands of hectares of prime forest, home to rare and endemic species, from brutal devastation.

As the Honorary Secretary of Nilgiris Wildlife and Environment Association, in 2009, his critical intervention in an ongoing case against the unregulated mushrooming of tourism infrastructure in the Sigur elephant corridor helped put an end to encroachments and illegal constructions in the area for good. He was also involved in protesting against the potentially-destructive establishment of the Indian Neutrino Observatory at Singara, a crucial elephant habitat. Through his untiring work, fighting legal battles, advocating for environmental rights and conducting educational workshops, Jayachandran inspires youngsters to join him as volunteers, many of whom go on to pursue careers in conservation.

He is a scrappy fighter, yes. But he’s also a solutions provider. By establishing a web of intelligence networks, he has been instrumental in helping the Kerala and Tamil Nadu Forest Departments bust poaching rackets, make seizures and apprehend hardened poachers. He has inspired many poachers to turn over a new leaf by surrendering their arms and ensuring alternate livelihood opportunities for them. Many of these ex-poachers today help the Forest Departments in blowing the cover on the modus operandi and operations of active wildlife criminals.

Jayachandran is a hero whose contributions it is impossible to justly chronicle. He is a man in whose steps we hope many more will follow.

And for this, we honour him.

Kartik Shukul
Lawyer, committed activist and wilderness defender

Incensed by how wildlife criminals have made a mockery of the law, Nagpur-based lawyer Kartik Shukul is not only putting poachers and traders behind bars, he’s also keeping them there with his superb knowledge of the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972. Photo Courtesy: Adv. Kartik N. Shukul

He runs a commercial law practice, offers advice to several NGOs working in the field of wildlife protection and makes himself available to state Forest Departments, to raise the level of understanding of relevant laws at training institutes, conferences and often at strategy meetings where stacks of legal documents need to be interpreted to obtain higher rates of convictions. All this while he continues to indulge his love for wildlife photography, usually with a trip to the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve.

A Nagpur-based lawyer, Shukul is stoically chipping away at the complacency that has thus far characterised the prosecution of dangerous wildlife criminals in India… those whose deeds have been equated with petty crimes for much too long. With his superb knowledge of the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972, and an incredible understanding of supporting precedents, Shukul is not only putting poachers and traders behind bars, he’s also keeping them there!

Regularly appearing as a Special Counsel for the Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh Forest Departments, this legal eagle has won an impressive number of convictions from the courts, including the cancellation of bail for ‘Chacha’, the notorious tiger skin trader whose crimes rival those of the late Sansar Chand. The landmark judgment that he was awarded in the case put an end to the era of ‘automatic bail’ for those accused of poaching and trade. Driven by his passion for nature and incensed by how wildlife criminals have made a mockery of the law, Shukul takes a no-holds barred approach to every case he accepts. He works with doctors, forensic examiners, the Forest Department and other colleagues to tear gaping holes in the cases of the defendants, making it near impossible for any judge to rule in their favour.

Shukul acknowledges the efforts of his team and associates in his success, specifically outlining the contributions of Pandurang Pakhale (see page 29), a Range Forest Officer of Maharashtra’s Pench Tiger Reserve. Pakhale has arrested over a dozen tiger poachers, busted a pangolin poaching racket and fearlessly appeared in court time and again, in spite of the immense political pressure against him for upsetting the status quo. Battling false allegations and threats from the wildlife crime syndicate, he has kept both his morale and morals high. With his perseverance and Shukul’s legal acumen, they have proved how effective the law can be if forest officials and lawyers work in tandem.

Despite the tedious rigours of his work, Shukul also manages to devote many hours every month to building capacity within members of the lower judiciary, police officers, Forest Department, and fellow lawyers by teaching them how to effectively wield his weapon of choice – the Wild Life Protection Act.

Kartik Shukul is a man of integrity and intelligence, whose resilience is taking out wildlife criminals one court case at a time.

And for this, we honour him.

Neha Sinha
Bold commentator, talented writer, and environmentalist

Quitting her job, Neha Sinha took a swan dive into the world of conservation science, policy, law and governance and has used her penmanship to bolster many environmental projects and campaigns. Photo: Anupam Sisodia

The world needs strong yet sensitive, opinionated yet rational, determined yet appreciative women. And if there’s anyone in India who fits the bill, it’s Neha Sinha. She worked as a senior reporter/ environmental journalist for The Indian Express, but the call of the wild proved too strong to ignore and she soon jumped ship to conservation. Quitting her job, Sinha took a swan dive into the world of conservation science, policy, law and governance by getting selected for Oxford University’s Masters of Science in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management on an INLAKS scholarship.

Her sweet voice is a powerful one that speaks in favour of threatened species and ecosystems. Working with the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) on policy and advocacy, her contributions have involved providing valuable inputs on amendments to the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972, Wetland Rules (2017), Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act (2016), and T.S.R. Subramanian High Level Committee to Review Environmental Laws (2015). She also represented BNHS while drafting the National Biodiversity Targets for the Government of India.

Amongst the many environmental projects and campaigns that she has bolstered, is the Amur Falcon Campaign in Nagaland – the biggest conservation success story of recent times. In this regard, she works on the ground in Nagaland and Manipur, creating awareness and education among local communities, as well as at the policy level through advocacy and environmental education programmes.

Using her knowledge, oratory skills and bold penmanship, Neha has trained hundreds of people, ranging from media, conservationists, citizens, forest guards to Gond tribals, in the basics of biodiversity, policy and advocacy. Her articles on the environment are regularly featured in publications like the Economic and Political Weekly, The Hindu, and DailyO, and she is also a Consulting Editor (Environment) for The Wire and a reviewer for Current Science.

Neha Sinha is a force to reckon with and, in her words, wants to put her ‘gentle fury and absolute persistence’ to good use. We have complete faith that her indomitable spirit will see her persevere through the dark stormy night of India’s environmental crisis. She is a beacon of hope for all of us.

And for this, we honour her.

Ramesh Pratap Singh, IFS (Retired)
Field Director, devoted wildlife manager and staunch protector

After serving in the Indian Forestry Services for more than three decades, R.P. Singh has worked through every tangent of wildlife conservation required to enable the revival of some of India’s most-visited tiger destinations. Photo Courtesy: Ramesh Pratap Singh

Keeping our precious Protected Areas (PAs) inviolate is an undertaking that requires the highest level of commitment and dedication. After serving in the Indian Forestry Services for more than three decades, R. P. Singh has worked through every tangent of wildlife conservation required to enable the revival of some of India’s most visited tiger destinations.

Singh began his administrative career as a Sub-Divisional Officer at Maharajpur, where the buffer zone of Kanha Tiger Reserve came under his jurisdiction. From there, he went from strength to strength, donning many a challenging hat, including that of Field Director of Satpura National Park, Field Director of Kanha Tiger Reserve, and Deputy Director of Bandhavgarh National Park. After a lifetime of managing wild habitats, he retired from the service as the Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) and Head of the State Tiger Strike Force, Madhya Pradesh, in 2017.

His profound understanding of wildlife conservation, forest management, administration and law and his sensitivity to local communities, led to landmark developments across various Protected Areas. From voluntary relocations to wildlife crime control, Singh displayed exemplary management capability. He was involved in the first, successful translocation of the highly endangered barasingha from Kanha to Bori Sanctuary in Satpura Tiger Reserve, and methodically tackled every micro intervention such as ensuring healthy hard ground sal forests and swamp generation, which are the species’ niche requirements.

Through his tenure as CCF and Field Director of Satpura National Park between 2011 and 2015, he successfully orchestrated the voluntary relocation of a staggering 37 villages from within the core of the tiger reserve. This helped alleviate biotic pressure on the park to a great extent, the strongest testimony to this being the reappearance of rare species in the area, such as the smooth coated otter, Indian grey wolf and honey badger.

As the head of M.P. Forest Department‘s State Tiger Strike Force, he oversaw the arrest of more than 200 wildlife criminals by implementing intense measures to combat poaching and trade. His valiant efforts have helped clamp down several major wildlife crime syndicates and their illegal operations in Madhya Pradesh.

R.P. Singh, in the pursuit of the preservation and protection of his beloved wilds, has left an indelible mark in India’s history of forest management and conservation, inspiring a whole generation of young officers.

And for this, we honour him.

Shashank Dalvi
Passionate ornithologist, adventure lover and unswerving protector

Shashank Dalvi’s interest in birds took him to the forests of Arunachal Pradesh, where he sharpened his skills as a professional bird guide and participated in bird and herpetofaunal surveys, and has evolved into a stellar naturalist and conservationist. Photo: Rokohebi Khoutsu

The curiosity that spurred Shashank Dalvi to wander the forests of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park alone as a boy, also won him the guidance of a battalion of Mumbai’s eminent naturalists. By tailing these early mentors and absorbing every odd tidbit of information on the natural world, Shashank soon evolved into a stellar naturalist himself.

His interest in birds took him to the forests of Arunachal Pradesh, where he sharpened his skills as a professional bird guide and participated in bird and herpetofaunal surveys including the Eaglenest Biodiversity Project (which involved work on newly-discovered and re-discovered species of birds and reptiles).

After a B.Sc. in Zoology from Bhavan’s College, Mumbai, Dalvi then cemented his reputation as a naturalist and scientist to watch out for by enrolling in WCS India and NCBS’ celebrated M.Sc. in Wildlife Biology and Conservation programme, and producing the first study to combine biogeography and genetics on bird fauna of Northeast India as part of his thesis on ‘Role of Brahmaputra and hill ranges as a biogeographic barrier for avian fauna of Northeast India’.

In 2012, he was a member of the team that discovered the shocking Amur Falcon massacre in Doyang, Nagaland, which catalysed an international conservation movement the likes of which India has rarely seen. The team’s findings were published in the journal Science and in 2013, Dalvi served as a core member of the Amur Falcon Conservation Project that successfully stopped the hunting of these exquisite migrating falcons by triggering high-level government support, patrolling and enforcement, community engagement and a comprehensive conservation education programme.

In 2015, Shashank completed the first Indian ‘Big Year’ for birds, which took him across remote corners of 20 states of India, and in 2016 he was part of the team to describe the Himalayan Forest Thrush, a new bird species to science, and only the fourth bird to be described from India since its independence. A self-professed ‘bird nerd’, his long-term goal is to pioneer a nation-wide conservation programme for birds outside Protected Areas.

His vast knowledge, commitment to science, and love for grueling expeditions has catapulted Dalvi into a league of his own.

And for this, we honour him.

GREEN TEACHER AWARD

We were in search of an individual with missionary zeal and a proven environmental track record, who set an example for other educators to follow.

K.S. SMITHA
Spirited educator, environmentalist and inspirational activist

K.S. Smitha has been leading her students to the tunes of conservation and she spares no opportunity to take her students out of the classroom to explore and marvel at the beauty of nature. Photo Courtesy: Smitha K.S.

Despite having grown up in the bustling city of Kolkata, Smitha’s childhood memories are tinged with green. Smitha’s father, a flora enthusiast, swore by green spaces and their home was a miniature sanctuary for an assortment of urban wildlife. Her father though, was not just gifted with a green thumb, but also the spirit of an activist, a legacy he passed on to his daughter. It was this atmosphere during her formative years that bestowed young Smitha with a sense of wonder that has lasted her all life long.

Smitha’s passion for the wild coalesced with her love for children in 1997, the year she chose teaching as her profession. Ever since, Smitha has been an affable pied-piper, leading her students to the tunes of conservation. Having built a green army, she spares no opportunity in taking her regiments of future green activists out of the classroom to explore and marvel at the beauty of nature. In order to fulfill her fundamental agenda of connecting children with nature, she has created multiple nature clubs for her school. Smitha, along with her students, has even led an agitation against the city municipal corporation when it decided to bulldoze dozens of trees for a road-widening project. She petitioned, rallied and took concrete steps to stop the rampage.

With the inception of Kids for Tigers, Smitha became a school coordinator, proactively promoting the cause of tiger conservation. Known as ‘The Tigress’ of her school, she has spearheaded a number of nature programmes from ‘Tiger Fests’ to rallies, plantations and quizzes, ensuring a curriculum steeped in respect for the natural world. A woman of compassion and action, amongst her many initiatives was a campaign that supplied children living in villages around the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve with educational supplies. Through this project, she also succeeded in building a rare bond between city children and rural children. If nothing else, this undertaking is proof of Smitha’s devotion, not only towards the environment but towards the children of tomorrow as well.

As myopic and gluttonous leaders squander away our natural resources for their individual agendas, Smitha has taken on the monumental task of raising an environmentally conscious generation. Always leading by example, her passion, even after 20 years of service, shines bright. Neither time, nor tragedy has fazed this determined green teacher. While the world talks about leaving a better planet for our kids, Smitha has been quietly nurturing better kids for our planet.

And for this, we honour her.

Young Naturalist Awards

We looked for young naturalists or conservationists, for whom the study and defense of nature is the purpose of life, whose actions speak louder than words and who inspire hope for the future.

Jyoti Sharma
Nature lover, guide and future leader

Just thirteen years old, Jyoti Sharma conducts nature trails for students from the locality and is uniting children and adults for nature. Photo: Govardhan Meena

Just 13 years old, Jyoti Sharma is breaking barriers and setting new horizons for young girls and boys everywhere. This spunky teenager is an eighth grade student from JSM Public School, Sawai Madhopur. But don’t be fooled by her 1.2 m. frame – her deep understanding and knowledge of Ranthambore’s flora and fauna can give your average naturalist a run for his or her money.

A Kids for Tigers student, Jyoti has been an active participant of nature trails conducted by the programme coordinator Goverdhan Meena. Charmed by what the natural world has on offer in her glorious part of the world, she rapidly learnt all about the plants and animals regularly spotted along these trails. So fierce was her dedication, that in no time Jyoti took charge, leading students from her school into the fascinating world of nature. From assisting Goverdhan Meena to coordinating nature trails, Jyoti has become a local favourite. With her principal’s support, she now conducts trails for other schools from the locality, some of which see attendance by teachers as well. With this, Jyoti has casually accomplished the feat of uniting children and adults over and for nature, a task that most conservationists struggle with for years!

A budding playwright, our youngest naturalist of the year also writes plays on conservation issues. The storehouse of talent that she is, she has won accolades for her oratory and writing skills. We await the day when Jyoti Sharma will stand at the frontline of conservation in India, but even now, we stand in awe of the charisma, knowledge and grit of this young gun.

And for this, we honour her

Vaishali Rawat
Writer, conservation advocate changemaker

As Vaishali Rawat’s appreciation for India’s staggering biodiversity grows with every new adventure, she is striving to popularise conservation and create a groundswell of public support for the natural landscapes on which we all depend. Photo Courtesy: Vaishali Rawat

When she was 16, Vaishali Rawat saw two roads diverge in the yellow woods. Five years later, she stands inspired and proud, having traversed the road less taken.

Currently handling media, outreach and science communications forthe Wildlife Conservation Society-India, Vaishali is taking conservation and wildlife issues to the masses through written and photo stories. Armed with a critical mind and a sharp pen, she has had articles featured in Sanctuary Asia and other publications like Nature inFocus.

Though her interest may lie in igniting minds through her words, her prowess extends well beyond. Through her time in college, Vaishali actively volunteered across different disciplines of conservation, gaining invaluable exposure and experience: she learned ecological fieldwork on carnivore occurance in the Kanha-Pench Landscape with the WCS; understood the basics of animal-handling at the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (MCBT); and battled the soaring temperatures of the Thar Desert while participating in the annual survey of the Great Indian Bustard. When in the field, she engages with various stakeholders, scientists, forest guards and locals, gathering a wide array of perspectives, which have allowed her to form her own, unbiased views. She has been equally invested in the non-glamorous aspect of conservation advocacy, a lot of which includes tedious desk and paperwork. Through her journey, Vaishali has had her passion molded by accomplished conservation journalist, Prerna Singh Bindra. Under Prerna’s mentorship, she has drafted stories on wildlife news and policies, served as the assistant editor of the journal TigerLink for three years, and delved into the nuances of natural resource management in India.

Early on, she learned that while there was increasing research on wildlife and conservation in India, very few efforts were being made to communicate its significance to the public. She pursued this work throughout her time at the UNESCO Centre of the Wildlife Institute of India, as well as through the education and awareness programmes at MCBT. As Vaishali’s appreciation for India’s staggering biodiversity grows with every new adventure, so does her discontentment with the under representation of environmental issues in the mainstream media. Shoulders squared, she is striving to popularise conservation and create a groundswell of public support for the natural landscapes on which we all depend. A young woman of worth, we’re certain that whenever she finds a fork in the road, she will choose the one less travelled.

And for this, we honour her.

Nikit Surve
Leopard researcher, communicator and trend-setter

Nikit Surve conducted the first-ever official, scientific census of leopards in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, as a part of his Master’s dissertation for the Wildlife Institute of India. Photo Courtesy: Nikit Surve

Nikit Surve is not your average city slicker. Drawn to the wild side from early on, in school he was inspired by an Environment Science teacher who told his class “Even if one of you goes out and does something for the environment I would be satisfied with my job”.

While studying Zoology and Botany from St. Xaviers College, Mumbai, Nikit decided to put his theoretical knowledge to use and volunteer on various research projects. Thus, he found himself in the field, sometimes studying mega herbivore densities, including that of the gaur and the elephant, and at other times collecting tiger and leopard scat for DNA studies. It was during one such project, that Nikit encountered leopard biologist Dr. Vidya Athreya. Her work on the interaction between big cats and humans struck a chord with this young naturalist and in a flash of clarity he understood what he wanted to focus his energies on.

Emboldened by this recognition of his calling, Nikit went on to conduct the first-ever official, scientific census of leopards in the sprawling urban wilderness known as the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, as a part of his Master’s dissertation for the Wildlife Institute of India. Using camera-traps to collect data, he calculated leopard-prey densities and also studied the big cat’s feeding habits. Nikit then conducted similar studies in Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Vasai and in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh along with his team members.

Apart from being an accomplished researcher, Nikit is also a fantastic communicator. “Other than conservation of course, my interests are walking, talking and reading,” he laughs. He ingeniously marries these interests in the impactful awareness campaigns based on his research findings that he conducts in schools, colleges and even in the remote sugarcane fields of Maharashtra, where communities live cheek-by-jowl with big cats.

At 25, Nikit is a Research Associate with the Wildlife Conservation Society – India, and has already fulfilled his school teacher’s dream, working with dedication and passion on a complex and burning conservation issue – that of sharing space with our wild cat neighbours. But even as he continues to observe, study and analyse human-leopard interactions, his dream remains humble: “All I want is for my friends and young people to act responsible and contribute to healing our environment”.

And for this, we honour him.

Wind Under The Wings Award

We looked for an organisation that had enabled an employee, or had supported someone to defend nature by making resources available and by providing the intellectual space for them to follow their own green mission.

Tongam Rina and The Arunachal Times
Fearless writer, fighter and exemplar journalist

Tongam Rina was shot outside her office in 2012 in a bid to silence her. Known for her incisive writing, Tongam has reported on issues concerning the environment, illegal activities in the name of development and has become the voice of dissent. Photo Courtesy: Tongam Rina

The Associate Editor of The Arunachal Times, Tongam Rina was shot outside her office in 2012. She had also had her office ransacked and received multiple death threats (before the ill-aimed bullet). When intimidation did not work, Tongam was shot in the hope that the bullets would silence her. Little did her attackers know, that the might of her pen would outweigh the barbarity of their sword.

Known for her incisive writing, Tongam has reported on issues concerning the environment, illegal activities in the name of development. Her articles cover the hydro-dollar mission and power generation surge set to ravage her state. She courageously called out the then Chief Minister for squandering the state’s precious natural resources, by giving hydro-power leases en-masse to private corporate lobbies and public sector undertakings.

Through her column ‘Ring-side View’, she has shed light on the environmental unviability of the hydroprojects in Dibang Valley, Tawang and Siang basin. Tongam also became a voice of dissent through her extensive and honest reportage of the anti-dam protests that were held in 2016 in Tawang, where two protestors were killed and scores injured.

Tongam has been an equally faithful ally to the Pakke Tiger Reserve in Arunachal. She authored a series of articles, reporting on illegal logging in and outside Pakke, which shook the bureaucracy out of their slumber. Empathising with the daily-wage front-line anti-poaching staff of the park, Tongam published front-page articles detailing their struggle. In fact, she fought alongside the staff to get their jobs regularised as per the directives given by the National Tiger Conservation Authority.

The tragedy of our times is that we must take sides. Tongam chose hers. A bullet, surgeries and an ongoing long recovery, this courageous journalist remains unstoppable. While we can only salute her spirit, here is what fellow conservationist and sister-in-arms, Nandini Velho had to say about her, “A colleague from the Pakke Tiger Reserve Forest Department called her ‘khatarnak’. Hers is exactly the kind of service we ought to honour at a time when voices are muzzled and people kneel when asked to bow.” Tongam Rina is the lion-hearted woman from Arunachal Pradesh who refuses to give in.

And for this, we honour her.

Special Sanctuary Tiger Awards 2017

Unrelenting forest officers, persistent community members, brave foot soldiers

Rajveer Singh Rajawat

Photo: Govardhan Meena

Rajveer Singh is an unsung hero who has spent 26 years in service of protecting Rajasthan’s Ranthambore National Park. He has played a pivotal role in helping the Forest Department arrest some of the most notorious poachers operating in and around the park. What is more, he has also aided the Ranthambhore wildlife staff in rescuing straying wild animals in dangerous situations. His critical help ended up rescuing 18 tigers, 21 leopards, 16 bears, 14 hyaenas, two pangolins and hundreds of other animals in different districts of Rajasthan. Even more heartening, he has been able to help improve the relationship of local communities with the Forest Department and is an example for every forest guard in India to follow.

And for this, we honour him.

Hanuman Singh Gurjar

Photo Courtesy: Tiger Watch

From monitoring straying tigers to keeping a vigilant eye on illegal activities, the breadth of his fieldwork is matched by his administration skills. Serving as the core commander of the Village Wildlife Volunteers, he has played a key role in establishing the programme, having trained as many as 50 volunteers to assist in the task of protecting Ranthambhore’s invaluable wildlife. A strong bridge between the local community and forest officials, he has helped to sensitise close to 90 villages about the benefits of forest ecosystems under a programme organised by Tiger Watch. He exemplifies the virtues that we wish to see in all wilderness protectors. We salute his unwavering spirit.

And for this, we honour him.

Pandurang Pakhale

Photo Courtesy: Pandurang Pakhale

An iron man of the Maharashtra Forest Department, he is presently posted at the Pench Tiger Reserve as a Range Forest Officer of East Pench Range. He is responsible for the arrest of more than a dozen tiger poachers. He has continued investigations despite strong protests and police complaints – the result of political clout and support of fish mafia for the poachers. His efforts paid off when the Honourable Bombay High Court, Nagpur bench rejected the bail plea of the poachers. For Pakhale, such face offs are not unusual. In January 2017, he took on pangolin traders and poachers whom he took to court and stood up to political leaders who demanded his arrest and transfer. He also busted monitor lizard poachers and arrested eight of them in June 2017.

In his short service of three years in the Forest Department, he has filed 14 Preliminary Offence Reports and booked 57 accused of wildlife crimes. His goal is simple and in his words, “I am simply protecting the forest and wildlife for the next generation including my 10-year-old daughter Dnyaneshwari.”

And for this, we honour him.

First published in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVII No. 12, December 2017

 
 
 

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