Accolades For Grassroots Conservationists
As the ‘Knowledge Partner’ for NDTV’s ‘Save Our Tigers’ campaign, Sanctuary Asia was asked to recommend sterling individuals from India’s forest department to be felicitated on July 29, 2015, Global Tiger Day, in New Delhi.
Delighted to have an opportunity to guide the spotlight onto the little known heroes who protect our wilds, we decided to seek out individuals working in Protected Areas (PAs) that most people have never even heard about. Constrained by time and location, we requested several credible members of our vast network of scientists, researchers, conservationists and wildlife managers to quietly send us nominations from the PAs that they work in. From this list, we narrowed in on eight individuals who, in spirit and form, embody the very best of India’s culture of conservation.
Meet the Winners!
Name: Panchanan Nayak
Designation: Elephant Tracker, Daily Wage Worker
Location: Athgarh Forest Division, Odisha
In an area where human-animal conflict is sky rocketing, a small team of elephant trackers put their lives at risk everyday to ensure the safety of local residents and elephants alike. Over 150 elephants reside in the Athgarh Forest Division of Odisha, and they face immense challenges as their habitat has been drastically diminished.
A father of two and now deeply attached to 'his' elephants, ‘Panchu’ and his team track the Athgarh herd of elephants every single day. They keep tab of their exact location, number, missing animals or new ones, and relay the information to headquarters. By afternoon, they have a fair idea of where exactly the elephants will emerge and which villages, settlements and farmlands are likely to be on their path that evening. As the elephants near roads and villages, other members of the forest department halt traffic and crowds as the conflict control squad 'guides' the elephants as to where and when exactly they must cross. The elephants seem to recognise their protectors and are unusually calm, even obedient, in their presence in an area where they have otherwise turned aggressive towards human beings from decades of conflict.
Conservationist Aditya Panda works with Panchanan. He says, “The daily wage that Panchu (and his team) earns is not enough to raise a family. Panchanan lives hand to mouth, but what motivates him and his team is that the elephants they have come to love and care for, have survived one more day without facing the brunt of man-animal conflict.”
Name: Kime Rambia
Designation: Range Forest Officer, Tippi Range, Pakke Tiger Reserve
Location: Pakke Tiger Reserve, Arunachal Pradesh
A new sense of enthusiasm and fervor has inspired the Pakke Tiger Reserve forest staff, as newly appointed Range Forest Officer Kime Rambia shows tremendous passion for his job on a daily basis. By patrolling the Kameng river by boat and introducing surprise market surveys into the system, Kime comes forth with a sense of sheer dedication to safe guarding the wildlife of Pakke.
Name: Gopal Singh Karkee
Designation: Assistant Conservator of Forest, Ramnagar Forest Division
Location: Ramnagar Forest Division, Uttarakhand
Gopal Singh Karkee believes that wildlife can only be protected if its guardians remain motivated and looked after. A mentor, investigator, and conservationist, G.S. Karkee has emerged as a stoic custodian of wildlife in the state of Uttarakhand. In the conflict ridden area of Ramnagar, G.S.Karkee works tirelessly to put an end to the man-animal conflict in the region. As the Ramnagar forest is not a designated Protected Area, Karkee has had to undergo immense pressure to ensure the safety of the area’s diverse wildlife. Having faced the brunt of angry local residents when conflict arises, G.S. Karkee handles these situations with impressive tact and sensitivity. Through the method of enthusing his staff and coming through with new means of monitoring wildlife in Ramnagar, Karkee personifies the characteristics of a wildlife crusader, and is considered one of the most committed field officers in the country.
A former member of Uttarakhand’s State Wildlife Board, Prerna Bindra has worked extensively with Karkee. She says, “G.S. Karkee is a soldier: walks his forests, monitors and knows his tigers, and uses this knowledge to protect wildlife. He has played a tremendous role in making wildlife the focus of this very critical forest: training, mentoring, motivating the staff — and carrying his learning and experience of Corbett to emulate it here effectively."
Designation: Beat Officer
Location: Dampa Tiger Reserve, Mizoram
In a remote corner of India, amidst rugged mountains and the dense rainforests of Dampa Tiger Reserve, Beat Officer Kimthanga has been working relentlessly for over two decades to protect the region’s unique wildlife. Joining as one of the very first members of field staff in Dampa Tiger Reserve, Kimthanga displays astonishing skills of field craft and his knowledge is sought out by researchers who come to the area. A natural born leader, he speaks up for the welfare of his colleagues, and works without pause despite torrential monsoon rains, malaria, and even insurgents who kidnapped his own son. Kimthanga has experienced both the delights and the difficulties of being a forest officer. From tracking poachers to assisting scientific research, he has worked ceaselessly to safe guard the reserve and ensure the well being of its wild inhabitants.
Nature Conservation Foundation scientist T.R. Shankar Raman has known and worked alongside Kimthanga since 1993. He says of his colleague, “This is a well deserved award and should be a morale booster for him and others in Dampa.”
Name: Ravishankar C.
Designation: Assistant Conservator of Forest
Location: Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka
The first head of the country’s first Special Tiger Protection Force, Ravishankar C. stands as one of India’s finest forest officers. In 2014,Ravishankar managed to capture and relocate a ‘conflict’ tiger to safety despite the antagonism of an enraged and aggressive mob. In the same year, he was instrumental in the arrestof a police officer in a poaching case, where the accused was caught red handed with weapons and a jeep in the premises of a national park. Although he faced immense political pressure, Ravishankar stayed true to his values and made sure an FIR was filed. This young officer has evicted encroachments, seized wildlife contraband, and just this year assisted in the rescue of another tiger that strayed into human habitation. If such clarity of thought and action continue to infuse the Indian Forest Service, our wildlife will surely see better days.
Name: Roheet Karoo
Designation: Honourary Wildlife Warden, Nagpur District
Location: Umred-Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary
If you have heard of Umred-Karhandla, you have almost certainly heard of Roheet Karoo. We at Sanctuary Asia work closely with the twenty-nine year old Karoo who was majorly responsible for the notification of Maharashtra’s flourishing Umred-Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary in 2012. Straight talking and sharp shooting, Roheet is a one man army who tracks tigers, pacifies villagers, liases with government officials, assists in wildlife contraband seizures, and constantly works towards building bridges between the various conservation stake-holders of Umred. Other than being a Sanctuary Young Naturalist Award winner in 2012, Roheet is also a recipient of a TINA (Tina Abraham –Sanctuary Asia Initiative for Nature Action) grant that helps fund parts of his conservation work. outdoor saunas for sale and wooden hot tubs
Name: Nazir Malik
Location: Dachigam National Park, Kashmir
It is difficult to come across a wildlife forester more committed to his post than Nazir Malik. A true conservationist at heart, Nazir, who has perhaps patrolled every inch of Dachigam National Park, has made it his ultimate goal to protect the critically endangered hangul. Exploring the park with Nazir is an education unto itself. He knows the local, English, and scientific names of Dachigam’s flora and fauna, can recite the medicinal uses of a large number of plants, and can even identify the hangul’s preferences. In his two decades at Dachigam, Nazir has fought a relentless battle to halt the degradation of the park, and has faced tremendous pressure doing so. Moreover, Nazir has even refused a promotion with the knowledge that it might take him away from this gorgeous park to which he is so very committed.
Name: E.A. Kuttapan
Designation: (Retired) Head Mahout
Location: Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh
Having started his career as a young boy, Head Mahout E.A. Kuttapan is one of India’s greatest tiger trackers. When the park management recognized his abilities, they designated him entirely to anti-poaching and habitat management work. Kuttapan has stumbled upon incredible and intimate wildlife moments, and has even captured some of them on film. His humbleness shines through, as he accredits his achievements to being part of a large team and of course to his beloved elephants.
In his words, “We are a family and our elephants are our children. We mahouts are the luckiest people on earth because despite the dangers, ours is a job that brings us the respect of the highest in the land. At one time, it was the maharajas who valued us, today Prime Ministers and the rich and famous depend on us to escort them through the forest.”