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Winning Battles

Dr. George Beals Schaller

George Schaller is a living legend. With a career that spans decades, his credibility and charisma have prompted several world leaders to strengthen and expand the Protected Area network for wildlife. From his first Alaskan field forays in 1952 to being appointed senior conservationist at the Wildlife Conservation Society and Vice-President of Panthera, he has led and inspired conservation initiatives and expeditions around the world. He travelled to Central Africa when he was 26, to live with the mysterious mountain gorillas and his momentous two-year stint (1959-60) shed new light on these magnificent apes that had made the dense African forest their home.

SPECIAL MENTION: 'GREY GHOST OF THE HIMALAYA' – Dhritimaan Mukherjee: This stunning image of a snow leopard Uncia uncia was taken in the high reaches of Ladakh. Glacial melt, the upward migration of trees such as conifers and gradual retreat of junipers and other plants that survive above the tree line is expected to set a domino effect that could overwhelm the food chain with the snow leopard at its apex.

Sanctuary Cover Story December 2011: The Sanctuary Wildlife Awards, supported by DSP BlackRock and Deutsche Bank, now in its 12th year, were initiated to recognise men and women who show extraordinary commitment and passion to protect and safeguard our planet's natural resources. This year’s winners are drawn from varied backgrounds including science, filmmaking, photography, academics and grassroots activism. These individuals and organisations and the work they do represent the ways in which on-the-ground conservation, environmental education, advocacy and volunteerism can usher in positive change. Their outstanding contributions, expertise and leadership has inspired and empowered hundreds of people around the world.

I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do. – Helen Keller

Dr. George Beals Schaller

LIFETIME SERVICE AWARD: A living legend, Dr. George Schaller has spent more than half a century leading and inspiring people to save some of the world’s most endangered landscapes and species. Courtesy:Dr. George Schaller

Renowned mammalogist, conservationist and author

George Schaller is a living legend. With a career that spans decades, his credibility and charisma have prompted several world leaders to strengthen and expand the Protected Area network for wildlife. From his first Alaskan field forays in 1952 to being appointed senior conservationist at the Wildlife Conservation Society and Vice-President of Panthera, he has led and inspired conservation initiatives and expeditions around the world. He travelled to Central Africa when he was 26, to live with the mysterious mountain gorillas and his momentous two-year stint (1959-60) shed new light on these magnificent apes that had made the dense African forest their home. He was able to waken the whole world to the imperative of protecting the endangered gorilla. Equally, his path-breaking work on the African lion in the Serengeti over four long years revolutionised protection programmes. Then, in the early 60s, his stint in the Kanha Tiger Reserve resulted in the first-ever scientific study on wild tigers. His book, The Deer and the Tiger, based on his experiences in Kanha, is still considered the gold standard for field biology across the world.

A prolific writer, his fascinating field work has been documented in as many as 16 published books and countless papers. In 1980, with his wife Kay, Schaller joined Chinese colleagues on an ambitious study of giant pandas. This revealed critical information on why the pandas were in decline and in Tibet, he is still remembered for handing out cards that read, “All beings tremble at punishment, to all life is dear. Comparing others to oneself, one should neither kill nor cause to kill.”

LIFETIME SERVICE AWARD: A German-born American scientist with deep-set hazel eyes and salt and pepper hair, Dr. George Schaller is now working to establish a massive peace park along the boundaries of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and China to conserve the endangered Marco Polo sheep. Credit:Amy Vedder

Prior to this, his research had brought him to the Himalaya where he studied the highly-endangered bharal or blue sheep, the elusive snow leopard, wild yak and other high-altitude animals. Marrying science to conservation, he has helped establish as many as 15 Protected Areas in Pakistan, Brazil, Mongolia and China, including Tibet’s famous 300,000 sq. km. Chang Tang Reserve. He continues to work closely with the governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and China to develop a massive peace park along their boundaries in the Pamirs to conserve the endangered Marco Polo sheep. George Schaller is the scientist’s scientist, and his contribution to conservation and our understanding of nature is immeasurable.

For this we honour him.

Sathyabhama Das Biju

WILDLIFE SERVICE AWARD: S.D. Biju is one of India’s most famous amphibian biologists. His initiative, the ‘Lost Amphibians of India’ has helped shine a spotlight on little-known species. Courtesy:Lost Amphibians of India

Amphibian biologist, researcher and teacher

Brilliant, self-effacing, and forthright, S.D. Biju is one of India’s finest field biologists. He started out as a botanist but his passion for frogs soon prompted him to work for a second PhD in Zoology from the Amphibian Evolution Lab in Brussels. Focusing on the rapidly declining amphibian population in India, he quickly realised that we could lose all our frogs within a few short years if dramatic steps were not taken immediately. Over the years, his mission resulted in the discovery of several amphibian species, including several in the Western Ghats. In 2003, he discovered an entirely new family of frogs (Nasikabatrachidae), hitherto unknown to science.

He went on to win the prestigious IUCN Sabin Award for conservation in 2008. And scientists honoured him by naming a frog after him – Polypedates bijui. A critical aspect of his work has been the combination of molecular techniques with traditional approaches. His findings led to major taxonomic debates and his postulations were eventually ratified by his most respected international peers. Biju is also credited with the discovery of the famed “purple frog” Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis, the first Indian canopy frog Raorchestes nerostagona and the smallest frog in India – the 10 mm. Nyctibatrachus minimus. Often funding his own explorations, Biju’s efforts have already thrown up 100 new species and led to the formal description of 54 new species. This is the highest ever tally of any land animal by an Indian scientist. His quest now is to rediscover amphibian species given up as ‘lost’. Today, as part of the faculty in the Department of Environmental Studies, at the University of Delhi, he conducts research and teaches. He also leads a carefully-selected team that is in search of the ‘Lost Amphibians of India’ and the yet unknown amphibians of India.

He has profoundly changed people’s lives and has guided and mentored scores of young scientists. In his words, “I want to motivate budding young researchers. And if my work influences even a tiny community, my purpose would be fulfilled.”

For this we honour him.

Shekar Dattatri

Award-winning wildlife filmmaker and conservationist

WILDLIFE SERVICE AWARD: Shekar Dattatri has shown how the video camera can be a powerful weapon to fight for wildlife and wild habitats and usher in change locally and nationally. His films have helped sensitise thousands about conservation issues and often forced apathetic authorities to take action. Courtesy:Shekar Dattatri

One of India’s quietest and finest wildlife conservation filmmakers, Shekar Dattatri has successfully used film to spotlight the issue of our disappearing wildlife and habitats. He has been particularly effective in highlighting the dubious role of India’s development planners in the destruction of life-saving ecosystems. In an era when filmmakers succumb to sensationalism, he has stayed steadfast to his vocation – relying on gripping imagery and meticulous research to enlighten and entertain.

In 2000, convinced that natural history films made for television produced few tangible gains for conservation, he gave up a thriving career producing wildlife films for international channels to become a “barefoot” filmmaker for hard-hitting advocacy and educational films within the Indian context. His 12-minute film ‘Mindless Mining – The Tragedy of Kudremukh’, on a rapacious iron ore mining project in the middle of a rainforest national park in south India, helped convince decision makers to order operations to be stopped. His widely-screened film, ‘The Truth About Tigers’ has influenced a wide cross-section of people – from teachers, students, decision makers and politicians, to villagers living right next to tigerland. He has authored two books for children, and writes with passion on filmmaking and nature conservation for leading newspapers, magazines and journals. Determined, patient and skilled, Dattatri combines passion and practicality to make a significant difference to India’s conservation movement.

For this we honour him.

Gerard Martin
Herp afficionado, wildlife rescuer and educator

WILDLIFE SERVICE AWARD: Gerard Martin’s experiential outdoor learning programmes are helping children and adults connect with nature to understand it better. He is also helping to build greater awareness on snakebite treatment and prevention. Credit:Ramnath Chandrashekhar

Founder and Director of the Gerry Martin Project, he is celebrated for his unique work with children across India. A childhood spent rescuing snakes and walking through forests led him to join the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust where he worked closely with the legendary Romulus Whitaker. In 2000, Martin became the first Indian Adventurer for the National Geographic Channel and worked with them in India until 2003, after which he joined hands with iDiscoveri Education. His mission now is to help urban dwellers connect with wildlife issues far removed from their daily lives. The ambitious programme he has launched involves a snakebite initiative that relies upon a network of the finest herpetologists in India. From animal identification to wild animal rescues and photography ventures, Gerard Martin’s contribution to nature education and conservation has been monumental.

For this we honour him.

Daulat Singh Shaktawat

Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF) in the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, braveheart and tiger lover

WILDLIFE SERVICE AWARD: Unquestionably brave, Daulat Singh Shaktawat is one of the tiger’s greatest protectors. Recently, he put himself between a distressed cat and an angry mob. Despite his severe injuries, his dedication to tiger conservation has never faltered and he continues to pour heart and soul into defending Ranthambhore’s forests. Courtesy:Daulat Singh Shaktawat

It is on the shoulders of such men that the world of conservation stands when we want to save the tiger, or its forests. Born and brought up in Rajasthan, this brave man was attacked in 1985 by the villagers of Sherpur and Khilchipur who killed a member of his patrolling party. Yet Daulat Singh was back on duty the very next morning. In Sariska, in 1997, a leopard that came out of anaesthesia faster than expected badly mauled him… and again, he was back on duty the day he was discharged from hospital. In 2010, in a now-famous incident on the fringes of the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve at Bhuri Pahari, he lost an eye when ‘T-Seven’ – a terrified and confused tiger that was being harassed by a mob of over 3,000 villagers, suddenly turned on him. Daulat Singh’s first coherent comment was: “It was not ‘T-Seven’s fault. If the villagers had not forced him back, the tiger would have quietly returned to the forest.” For several months after this attack, his life hung in the balance. When he was discharged, he heard that T-Seven had wandered out of Ranthambhore to Karoli, then Dholpur, and Mathura, all the way to the Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur, where he lived for four months. When the Wildlife Institute of India team decided to tranquillise T-Seven for release in Sariska, Daulat Singh insisted he accompany the team so that he could be certain that the tiger he saved from the mob was safely released. This incredibly courageous man is the quintessential tiger defender.

For this we honour him.

P. Suresha

Grassroots activist and committed wildlifer

WILDLIFE SERVICE AWARD: P. Suresha has a win-win formula for India’s forests – give local communities the resources they need to reduce their dependence on Protected Areas and have them help implement such initiatives. His LPG programme in the villages around Bandipur has helped reduce human-wildlife conflict in and around the park. Courtesy:Namma Sangha

Chief Administrative Officer of Namma Sangha for the last seven years, P. Suresha has spent the last decade working for wildlife. As a student, he met the famous wildlifers Krupakar B.S. and Senani Hegde who had been kidnapped by Veerappan, and quickly fell under their spell. For some years he worked with them in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve, interacting with local communities to understand and help resolve issues with the Karnataka Forest Department. This formed the basis of his work at Namma Sangha. He also spent four years working with the Nature Conservation Foundation where he further cemented his resolve to work for the welfare of local communities, while enlisting their help to protect wildlife. His work at Namma Sangha has significantly improved the relationship of people with the park next to which they live.

For this we honour him.

Ramnath Chandrashekar

YOUNG NATURALIST AWARD: Ramnath Chandrashekar is the driving force behind the organisation, Youth for Conservation. A budding wildlife photographer, his images have earned international recognition and he is a shining example of the power of young people to demand and drive change. Courtesy:K. Ramnath Chandrasekhar

Award-winning wildlife photographer and conservationist

At 22, Ramnath Chandrashekar has already chalked up an impressive list of achievements. Quite apart from being an accomplished nature photographer, he has an abiding ambition to convey practical, rational conservation values to young India. His first brush with photography began at the age of 13, in the lush southern Western Ghats. His work soon began to be published nationally and was noticed by the likes of Fujifilm and the Rolex Young Laureates Programme. He was a part of a documentary on king cobras which was broadcasted on National Geographic. Determined to influence India’s conservation movement he co-founded Youth for Conservation with his guide and mentor, wildlife filmmaker Shekar Dattatri. Today he has channelled his talent and drive with missionary zeal across Tamil Nadu, where he helps inform thousands of school and college students on the finer aspects of tiger conservation through screenings and discussions based on the film ‘The Truth About Tigers’. In his view, awards and accolades merely help to ratify his strongly-held conviction that nature conservation is vital to the well-being of Indians in all strata of society.

For this we honour him.

Aishwarya Sridhar

Writer, poet and passionate conservationist

YOUNG NATURALIST AWARD: Only 15 years old, Aishwarya Sridhar uses her power of persuasion and her pen to propagate conservation messages. Her mission is to waken every member of her generation to the perils faced by wildlife. Courtesy:Aishwarya

Aishwarya Sridhar is only 15 years old – one of the youngest ever Sanctuary awardees. But her age belies her wisdom. She is already a powerful voice for conservation and a shining example to children her age. Her poems and essays, born of a passion for nature, have won numerous awards at inter-school competitions and have been published in papers around the country including The Times of India, DNA and Cub magazine. She appeared on the 2010 NDTV Tiger Telethon to speak vociferously for the tiger. A quiet worker, she is already a force to reckon with in her locality where people turn to her for help when confronted with situations involving wildlife that they do not know how to handle. Tough and purposeful, she has a loose network of supporters who very recently tipped her off so she could prevent the mindless killing of three Russell pit vipers and a cobra, which she released into a nearby forest. Aishwarya has a lifetime ahead of her, yet is driven to widen support for nature conservation because in her words: “The natural world is in trouble and we have no time left.” Wooden hot tubs and saunas for sale www.woodenspasolutions.co.uk

For this we honour her.

Tengbat Sangma

YOUNG NATURALIST AWARD: Tengbat Sangma’s knowledge of amphibians rivals those of experts with many years of field experience under their belt. He is a key member of Dr. Biju’s ‘Lost Amphibians of India’ initiative and spends long hours roaming the forests in his backyard, searching for new species of frogs. Courtesh:Lost Amphibians of India

At 25, Tengbat Sangma is a young naturalist with an abiding interest in amphibians. A field ecologist, this Garo lad from Theobonggre village in the West Garo Hills district of Meghalaya can rattle off the names of countless frog species of his state with consummate ease. He can identify most of the frogs of Northeast India down to the species level with surprising accuracy, and has become one of India's most trusted young naturalists under the tutelage of S.D. Biju, India’s ‘frog man’. As part of the ‘Lost Amphibians of India (LAI)’ initiative, his field work is helping India to use amphibians to evaluate the geography and pace with which climate change impacts are emerging. His involvement in the field research of the Systematics Laboratory of the Department of Environmental Studies, Delhi University, has contributed to our scientific assessment of little known species. A skilled climber, he is able to reach inaccessible areas that are often left un-surveyed and he seems to come alive only when he is in some wild place or other. In the years ahead we can fully expect him to be part of teams that end up discovering even more new species of amphibians. He is a green warrior and a future leader.

For this we honour him.


The Maharashtra Governmentfor enabling and encouraging Praveen Pardeshi, IAS, Forest Secretary, Government of Maharashtra, to reinvigorate and consolidate wildlife conservation in the state.

WIND UNDER THE WINGS AWARD: The Maharashtra Government must be commended on its support to Praveen Pardeshi, IAS, Forest Secretary, Government of Maharashtra, who is driving change and thus revolutionising the management of the Protected Area network in the state. Working closely with NGOs and wildlife experts, Pardeshi has already resolved several problems and put new initiatives in place to the advantage of Maharashtra’s forests. Courtesy:Satpuda Foundation

Praveen Pardeshi is convinced that the interests of Maharashtra and India will best be served if all sectors of society, government and non-government, work together to restore the fabled natural wealth of this magnificent state. This, in his view, will secure our water, food and climate security at an affordable cost and will end up offering right livelihoods to lakhs of forest dwellers and rural poor.

In the past six months, his leadership and sensitivity have prompted a wave of support for forest conservation from wildlife activists, Forest Department officials, state administrators and even the office of the Chief Minister and Forest Minister of Maharashtra. In turn, this has resulted in path-breaking administrative measures that have yielded rich ecological returns. In the Melghat Tiger Reserve, for instance, vital new habitats have been created for tigers because the Maharashtra government was able to work with the Central Ministry of Environment and Forests to finance the rehabilitation of villages, which for years had been petitioning to be resettled closer to urban markets. What is more, over 1,200 front-line vacancies of forest guards and Range Officer posts were filled, thus lending critical protection to hitherto unprotected wildlife habitats in Maharashtra. The voluntary rehabilitation of villages from Tadoba, Pench and Melghat have been prioritised under the state plan and CAMPA funds will be used to create win-win outcomes for people and wildernesses. Eco-development programmes have been formulated under which nearly 100 villages are being given biogas and stall fed fodder to minimise their impact on the forest. In order to make the initiative sustainable, park authorities will use entry fees to enhance protection initiatives as well as the biogas programme. The buffer zone territorial division in Tadoba has been placed under the integrated control of the Field Director and Project Tiger in a bid to promote wildlife-oriented management plans. Already, incidents of overgrazing and forest fires have declined, all with the participation of local communities. We are certain that such dramatic and positive transformations that provide a win-win for forests and people will soon be emulated by other states.

For this we honour Praveen Pardeshi and the Maharashtra Government.

Rajendra and Pournima Kerkar

GREEN TEACHER AWARD: This goes out jointly to a husband and wife team, Pournima and Rajendra Kerkar, who have influenced children and their families in Goa to look at nature as friend and protector. They have turned the teaching profession into a force for nature conservation through nature clubs, photography, writing and film workshops and they lead by personal example. Courtesh: Amit Panariya

Educators, conservationists and social workers

Their children are their life, and they believe that the lives of their children is living nature. This is why this dedicated husband and wife team have chosen to spend their entire existence protecting the forests, rivers, lakes, mountains, coasts and wildlife in the tri-junction of Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra.

The Kerkars have delivered over 3,000 talks on the ecology of the larger Goa landscape to small and large audiences and have worked doggedly with conservationists to have the Mhadei and Netravali Wildlife Sanctuaries notified. Believing that local communities are vital to the protection of tigers and wildlife of the area, they have won massive public support against mining and destruction of forests and pollution of rivers and coasts. Rajendra also scripted an award-winning film called ‘Devrai’, which helped to power grassroots action, from youth clubs, mahila mandals and self-help groups. Evangelists for nature, they routinely organise mobile exhibitions to highlight, among other things, the fact that tigers are indeed permanently resident in Goa. Rajendra is the State Convenor, Goa River Conservation Network, Coordinator, Goa Foundation, and a member of several government boards. Pournima is a published poet and a fulltime teacher at the Dynanprakash Mandal, Bicholim Higher Secondary School, Mulgao. Both use the media to help promote local folklore and are recognised as key children’s rights activists.

Green Teachers to the core, they live so that our children have a better tomorrow.

For this we honour them.

Published in Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXXI No. 6, December 2011


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Bittu Sahgal

December 3, 2011, 04:24 PM
 Anyone who wishes to know more about the Sanctuary Wildlife Awards could visit www.theearthheroes.com