Sanctuary RBS Wildlife Awards Completes A Decade
December 2, 2009: Lifetime Service Award conferred upon Mr.Brijendra Singh, synonymous with the Corbett Tiger Reserve, for his outstanding contribution to Wildlife Conservation. It’s the 10th year of Sanctuary-RBS Wildlife Awards, a time to honour those who have dedicated their lives to the defence of India’s rich natural heritage, while working tirelessly to safeguard our planet from the worst impacts of climate change. Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), along with Sanctuary Asia, announced the Earth Heroes 2009 today.
The awardees were selected from a vast number of nominations received from across the country, including passionate and committed conservationists, NGOs, government officers, lawyers, journalists and academicians.
Speaking on the occasion, Meera Sanyal, Country Executive, ABN AMRO, said, "I would like to congratulate the entire Sanctuary RBS team on having reached this incredible milestone; a decade of recognizing and awarding our Earth Heroes for their outstanding service to wildlife and the environment. As the world is fast discovering, protecting natural ecosystems is the most effective way to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Though ten years have quickly slipped by, I strongly believe that our real journey has just begun. Our task ahead is to continue to support the deserving, and act as catalysts for attitudinal change within society towards conservation in all its facets.”
She continued, “It is heartening to note that young persons are at the forefront of the battle to stabilise the climate of the planet. Their focus and that of the world is today on Copenhagen and it will be our intention and our hope that “We Seal the Deal” there.”
Bittu Sahgal, Editor of Sanctuary Asia, echoed this sentiments saying: Climate change has shifted every goal post in the game. Nature has told us in no uncertain way that economics is subservient to the ecology of the tiny blue marble – Planet Earth -- that supports the only life we know of in vast space. Fortunately, every ecosystem in the world is self-repairing. The Garderners of our Eden, the myriad species that make up our biosphere, can repair all the damage we have caused, including climate change, provided we prove to be intelligent enought to allow planetary repair systems to work.”
The Lifetime Service Award was conferred upon by Mr.Brijendra Singh, one of India’s leading elephant experts, whose name is synonymous with the Corbett Tiger Reserve. Four decades after he began, he continues to patrol the park in the company of forest guards and is currently engaged in expanding the physical area and improving the conditions of work of the staff of all tiger reserves in India.
Five Wildlife Service Awards were presented to environmentalists, who have done significant work in wildlife protection. This year, the Wildlife Service Awards were presented to the following Earth Heroes:
Jointly to Dr. Divya Mudappa and T.R. Shankar Raman for their exceptional contribution to wildlife biology, particularly in the human-dominated landscapes adjoining Protected Areas in the Western Ghats and who continue to further their mission with the launch of the Nature Conservation Foundation at Mysore and have published several peer reviewed papers in national and international journals.
Mike Pandey for dedicating his life to the protection of wild nature through the use of cinematography and for his courage and determination in producing films – with or without sponsorships – that have influenced policy and saved endangered species.
Narhari Pandurang Bagrao who restored degraded forests with the help of villagers and enabled wildlife in the forests of Shahapur, Maharashtra.
Paresh Chandrakant Porab, a forester with the Goa Forest Department, who with his fierce commitment to the Goa forest lands under his control, coupled with courage in the face of vested interests, zealously worked towards his mission to protect the wildlife of India.
To Prabir Kumar Palei, one of Project Tiger’s longest-serving foot soldiers, a Forester in the most remote forests of Similipal, for his monumental contribution to the conservation of the Similipal Tiger Reserve for over three decades.
The Wind Under the Wings award, this year, honours Vijay Pinjarkar, Special Correspondent, The Times of India, Nagpur, for his incisive investigative stories and dogged pursuit of those who would violate the environmental and conservation laws of the land.
The Young Naturalist Awards are presented to Aamod Zambre, Prosper S. Marak and Vishal Jayant Bhave.
Aamod Zambre, the passionate 21-year old Zoology student, for his pioneering work in scientific research Arunachal Pradesh’s Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary and his indomitable spirit of adventure
The 24-year old emerging green warrior, Prosper S. Marak for protecting the biodiversity rich Garo Hills of Meghalaya from the ruthless mining industry and who continues to inspire young men and women in the state to protect their natural heritage
Vishal Jayant Bhave, all of 23 years old, discovered as many as 80 new Opisthobranch in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra – a species hitherto unknown in coastal India
This year’s joint recipients of The Green Teacher Award are Dr. Marselin R. Almeida and Dr. (Mrs.) Sarah. M. Almeida, two of India’s most respected plant specialists. Both have incalculably furthered systematic botany and taxonomy by identified and naming over 350 plant species, apart from the individual plant discoveries they have made.
The Sanctuary-RBS Wildlife Awards ceremony will be held on 3rd December 2009 in the Tata Theatre at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai at 7.30 pm.
About the awardees:
Lifetime Service Award:
For a lifetime devoted to the defense of India’s wildlife, for his inner purpose, courage and fortitude in protecting the Corbett Tiger Reserve for four long decades, we honour him.
Brijendra Singh: Is an extraordinary man by any measure. One of India’s leading elephant experts, his name is synonymous with the Corbett Tiger Reserve. In the early 1980s, the entire top brass of the District Administration of Uttar Pradesh – including the District Commissioner, District Magistrate, Superintendent of Police, the Sub Divisional Magistrate and the Police Station House Officer – discovered this to their dismay when he brandished a licensed revolver and conducted a citizen’s arrest, taking them into custody. They had poached a chital deer in the heart of the Tiger Reserve and thought they could get away with it. Singh’s love affair with Corbett began in the in the late sixties when he used the offices of Mrs. Indira Gandhi to prevent a 3 Star Hotel from being constructed in Corbett’s Khinnanauli area. He also prevented a Police Academy from being sited in Kalagarh. He then accompanied Christian and Nadine Zuber in 1972 when they took the evocative image of a tiger in a leg trap, which some say spurred the launch of Project Tiger.
In those early days, Singh’s uncle, the famous Billy Arjan Singh of Dudhwa, suggested that he be appointed Honorary Wildlife Warden of the Corbett Tiger Reserve area. Since then he has worked ceaselessly to secure the future of the Corbett landscape, succeeding in the late 1980’s to prevail upon his friend the late, Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi to add the vital Sona Nadhi Sanctuary and other key buffer areas to the reserve. He has also served as a Member of the Indian Board for Wildlife and the Steering Committee of Project Tiger, Government of India. He is currently working to expand the physical area of all tiger reserves in India even as he continues to lobby for more resources to obtain boats, vehicles and better working conditions for the field staff of his precious Corbett.
Wildlife Service Awards:
Dr. Divya Mudappa and T.R. Shankar Raman: They have studied hornbills, small carnivores and bird communities in the Western Ghats and have documented the destruction wreaked by agriculture on thin forest soils. They have witnessed ill-advised industrial projects and monoculture plantations replace the Annamalai and Valparai rainforests that India so desperately needs. None of this has been able to dissuade these gifted scientists from their mission to understand and protect the ecology of the Western Ghats. “Protected Areas now resemble “doughnuts”, they say. They are working with privately owned plantations of tea, coffee and cardamom plantations to remedy the situation so that the fabled biodiversity of the Western Ghats can be restored. Yet more new plantations should not, however, surround these PA’s. Divya’s Ph.D focused on the ecology of small carnivores and Shridhar’s (as Shankar Raman is called), on bird communities in Western Ghats. Both confirm that the region is deteriorating so rapidly that it might soon be unable to sustain human communities. To further their mission they launched the Nature Conservation Foundation at Mysore and have published several peer reviewed papers in national and international journals.
Mike Pandey: Having grown up in the shadow of the world famous Nairobi National Park, Kenya, protecting wildlife came as naturally to Mike Pandey as breathing. His cinematic awakening began at the age of seven when he was gifted a Kodak Browning Box camera by an uncle. Trained and educated in the U.K. and U.S., he returned to India to “make conservation and wildlife films capable of bringing about change.” Over three decades, Pandey’s films have undoubtedly worked magic. ‘Shores of Silence’ in particular was directly responsible for getting whale sharks placed on Schedule I of India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act and ‘The Last Migration – Wild Elephant Capture in Sarguja’ and ‘Vanishing Giants’ helped put an end to the cruel and destructive practice of elephant capture. Acutely aware of the power of film, he has put together an incredible 600 films including the popular television series Earth Matters on DD National and Khullam Khulla both of which succeeded in bringing conservation out of the realm of environmental jargon and into the living rooms of ordinary Indians. He has won three Wildscreen Panda Awards that are considered to be the world’s Green Oscars but in his words: “The only real reward I seek for the work I do is to see wildlife and wild habitats a little more secure.
Pandurang Bagarao: Represents the foundation upon which all the ambitious wildlife and biodiversity initiatives of conservationists, administrators, scientists and nature lovers are built. Not for him, the spotlight of national attention, nor that of local media. Instead he works quietly with villagers in Maharashtra’s Shahapur Forest Division, in the Washind Taluka of the Thane District. A Forester, 49-year-old Bagrao was witness to the relentless degradation of the wildernesses of the Maharashtra. The sight of barren farmlands and the water woes of six villages – Bhagdal, Kalgaon, Dahivali, Thile, Bavghar and Lenad so disturbed him in 1991 that he swore to work to restore both the forest and the lives of the hard-pressed villagers. With patience, he won their support and cooperation. Slowly cattle grazing and wood cutting came to a halt. He convinced his superiors to launch several community-based forest regeneration schemes. Delighted villagers watched as a large swatch of 1,700 hectares of uncultivable waste land was miraculously transformed into lush forest. Predictably, wild species returned. Fifteen years on, apart from chital, wild pig, barking deer, hyenas and leopards, the most hopeful sign of the ecological restoration of the region is the rebirth of once dry springs. This has injected much needed money into the community and has prompted other villages from far and near to ask for the ‘Bagrao Formula’ to be applied to their areas too. No one ever calculated the amount of carbon Bagrao helped to sequester through his work, but one thing is sure, in an era of climate change, the Bagrao Formula, if implemented effectively, will change the very face of India, indeed the world.
Paresh Chandrakant Porab: A forester with the Goa Forest Department, conducts raids on poachers, protects turtle nesting sites, and surveys forest lands to identify them for their potential as future sanctuaries and national parks. He was key to the team that conducted the scientific surveys that resulted in the declaration of the incredible Mhadei and Netravali Wildlife Sanctuaries in Goa. His tryst with nature conservation began in 1987 when he joined the WWF-Goa Nature Club in 1989 and soon became known as one of Panjim’s prime snake rescuers. He was nominated an Honorary Wildlife Warden, but in 2001, he went back to school, studied at the State Forest Service College, Coimbatore and won a position as Range Forest Officer at the Cotigaon Wildlife Sanctuary. Always at the forefront of tough operations, he won a State Bravery Award for his courage during a particularly dangerous leopard rescue. When one of Goa’s finest wetlands, the famous Carmbolim Lake, began to die at the hands of invasive weeds, he mobilised citizens, including children who helped clean up the lake. Their work resulted in a High Court order directing government agencies to protect the lake, which has since been promoted to the status of a Protected Area. He has also encouraged young persons to patrol nesting sites of sea turtles along the Goa coast and is currently fighting off politicians who want him to back away from a tiger poaching case he is pushing in Keri.
Prabir Kumar Palei: Has arrested over 100 people in a lifetime devoted to the protection of the tiger and has been attacked, ambushed and routinely threatened for his pains. But nothing is able to shake his steely resolve to protect the forest he loves. One of Project Tiger’s longest-serving foot soldiers, he joined Similipal’s frontline team in 1974. Through his distinguished career he shunned ‘coveted’ postings, preferring instead to spend 36 years as a Forester in the most remote forests of Similipal. He was mentored by the legendary Saroj Raj Choudhury and has literally walked thousands of miles on foot patrols. Palei probably knows Similipal better than any other living person. He speaks of the rise of Similipal in the 1970s, of tiger families moving from the core into the buffer and then into Reserved Forests farther afield. When protection was at its best, he has even seen a tiger sprawled across the verandah of the Upper Barhakamuda Range Office. Despite the terror unleashed by extremists in Similipal in March-April 2009, Palei and his team displayed courage beyond the call of duty. With no roof over their heads and only a damaged VHF communications tower to connect them to the rest of the world, he and his men returned to their post in the Upper Barhakamuda Range in core area of Similipal Tiger Reserve. When warned by the security forces against staying in deep forest after dark, he responded: “If not us, will you look after the forest?” Prabir Palei’s life has just one purpose – the Similipal Tiger Reserve. His mission now is to inspire new recruits with the zeal and skills to save the tiger.
Wind Under the Wings:
Vijay Pinjarkar and The Times of India: Week after week for the past three years, Vijay Pinjarkar, Special Correspondent with the Times of India, has investigated scores of environmental stories, in the process unearthing dark and hidden secrets that many powerful people would have preferred to kill. In his mission to search for the truth he has been supported by the editorial staff of the Times of India Nagpur, despite pressures to dilute, or dismiss the reports.
In a few short years, Pinjarkar has become one of India’s most prolific and consistent wildlife journalists. He attributes his awakening to the first real wildlife experiences he gained while participating in a tiger pugmark and waterhole census in the Pench Tiger Reserve in 2001.Since then his writings have consistently highlighted the contribution of tiger forests to the water security and the economic survival of Nagpur. The Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court has taken suo motu notice of his reports and forced action to be taken by the government. Most recently, his hard-hitting report on the dangers to tigers from four-laning the National Highway between Sakoli and Deori, led to the Supreme Court’s Central Empowered Committee and the office of the Central Forest and Environment Minister, Mr. Jairam Ramesh, stalling forest clearance to the project. Pinjarkar is currently investigating the false claims made by scores of coal mine operators to obtain wrongful environmental clearances at locations they claimed were more 15 kms. distant from the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve.
Aamod Zambre: Has worked in one of the most exciting places on the planet – Arunachal Pradesh’s Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary. Here conservation biologists first recorded the existence of the subspecies of a snake Protobothrops jerdonii xanthomelas and a scorpion, Euscorpiops bhutanensis. A consummate naturalist who brings to mind shades of the explorers of yore, in his youthful 21 years Aamod has managed to study interactions between the Indian fox Vulpes bengalensis and free ranging dogs in Nannaj, Maharashtra. He has also explored the Desert National Park, Rajasthan and the Little Rann of Kutchh in Gujarat. He is currently pursuing a Bachelors Degree in Zoology from the University of Pune and is driven by a passion for arachnids (scorpions and spiders) and herps (reptiles and amphibians). He is also compiling an online photographic guide to the scorpions of India.
Prosper S. Marak: Is remarkably young and despite not being formally trained, his knowledge and passion for India’s wildlife has won him the reputation of a giant-killer with many hard-fought conservation battles under his belt. At 24 he is the President of the Southern Zone of the Garo Students’ Union, the apex body of Garo Youth. With his young compatriots he has taken on the mining mafia that dominates much of the north eastern state of Meghalaya. Having grown up just outside the elephant forests of the Balpakram National Park and the Siju Wildlife Sanctuary, he fell in love with nature and learned to respect it from childhood. The southern boundary of the Balpakram National Park is rich in coal and in 2008, the depressing sight of bulldozers mowing down large tracts of forest land angered Prosper, so he organised a group of young activists to petition the state government against the miners. They met with apathy and aggression from the authorities. In 2009, their patience exhausted, Prosper’s young green warriors seized a bulldozer used by the miners and handed it over to the police. Predictably, protracted legal battles ensued, but in the meanwhile the young men and women cleared the debris and began to reforest the area. Then they took to patrolling the restored lands to ensure that bully boys hired by the miners did not return to destroy what had been resurrected.
In time, the work of these future citizens began to influence other young persons across the state and an organisation emerged, led by Prosper, called the Chitmang Hills Anti Mining Forum. One of the major battles is the fight against exploratory mining for uranium in Balpakram. As a result of their pressure the state of Meghalaya has been forced to put together a mining policy, which is being closely critiqued and will have an impact far beyond Balpakram. When Prosper now seeks their attention, the local administration listens. He is a true green warrior; a voice for tomorrow.
Vishal Jayant Bhave: Just 23 years old, has managed to discover as many as 80 new Opisthobranch that were previously unknown in India. He lives to study and protect the sea and was born and brought up in Ratnagiri, a small coastal town in Maharashtra. Aware that he needed academic credibility to back his passion, he completed his Masters in Oceanography from the University of Mumbai. Recognising his potential, the venerable Bombay Natural History Society offered him a coveted position as a Research Fellow, and mandated him to conduct studies in Ratnagiri, Gujarat, and Lakshadweep. They have even asked him to run their new Marine Centre in Ratnagiri, vital to keep an eye on the many polluting thermal power plants that are proposed for the region. He is an accomplished underwater photographer and promises to devote the rest of his life to the conservation of India’s fragile marine habitats and their flora and fauna.
Green Teacher Award:
Dr. Marselin R. Almeida and Dr. (Mrs.) Sarah. M. Almeida For nurturing, guiding and shaping young minds to explore and understand the mysterious world of plants.
For four decades and more this remarkable husband and wife team have meticulously documented, studied and taught botany. Many of their students are now renowned botanists in their own right and this, according to this husband and wife team, is their greatest reward. Acknowledged to be two of India’s most respected plant specialists, both Marselin and Sarah have incalculably furthered systematic botany and taxonomy by identified and naming over 350 plant species, apart from the individual plant discoveries they have made. Hundreds of published papers, books and documents are testament to the legacy they have left for India and the world. This baseline data is likely to help future land managers to negotiate India’s perilous path through the minefield of climate change.
The zestful duo works closely with the Bombay Natural History Society, the Blatter Herbarium of St. Xavier’s College, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and the International Society for Traditional Medicine (ISTAM), among other institutions. Now retired, they live even busier lives guiding and shaping the future of the countless students who seek them out.