Home Magazines Cover Story The Sanctuary Wildlife Awards 2018 – Celebrate Nature, Honour its Defenders

The Sanctuary Wildlife Awards 2018 – Celebrate Nature, Honour its Defenders

The Sanctuary Wildlife Awards 2018 – Celebrate Nature, Honour its Defenders

An indomitable force behind biodiversity conservation, including the agri-environmental revolution, eco-feminism and the fight against genetically modified foods in India, Vandana Shiva has been working tirelessly for the welfare of India’s farmers and conservation of indigenous seed varieties. Photo Courtesy: Vandana Shiva

Each year, in the process of unearthing inspiring people who have been contributing to protecting our home - Planet Earth, we come across an incredibly diverse set of brave men and women – who do not let fear or uncertainty deter them. The Sanctuary Nature Foundation is honoured to recognise these Earth Heroes, not only to shine a light on their work but also as a token of gratefulness for their selfless work.

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.

Vandana Shiva
Bio-piracy activist, food-sustainability advocate and changemaker

She’s articulate, erudite and no stranger to accolades. She’s an environmentalist, social worker, scholar, author and feminist. And she’s indisputably one of India’s most powerful voices for eco-feminism and for the long overdue agri-environmental revolution. Back in 1982, Shiva established the Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology to develop sustainable agriculture practices to reverse the ill-effects of the Green Revolution. Though widely lauded, the Green Revolution led to an over-dependence on fertilisers and pesticides, the wide use of hybrid seed strains, and the neglect of indigenous seed varieties. Shiva delved into the politics and economics of agriculture, rallied against the patenting of seeds, took on the might of GMO goliaths, and went on to found Navdanya in 1991. Through Navdanya, she works with farmers across the country to conserve the diversity of native seeds and promote organic farming practices. Today, this national movement has witnessed the creation of 60 seed banks in 16 states. Shiva’s accomplishments don’t end here. A renowned scholar, she has served on national and international boards and committees including the National Board for Organic Standards in India, Prince Charles’ expert group on Sustainable Agriculture, the International Forum on Globalisation and the Commission on the Future of Food, amongst a slew of others. A long-time critic of the economic and ecological costs of corporate-led globalisation, Shiva has lent her formidable persona and intelligence to grassroots movements across the world, is a celebrated public speaker and the author of over 20 books. Vandana Shiva asks uncomfortable questions to the elite and powerful, challenges the status quo, and fights the forgotten injustices that plague India’s rural heart. She is the warrior-nurturer who will not be silenced.

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.

Rohit Choudhury
Determined campaigner, activist and committed environment protector

Putting the Right to Information (RTI) Act to best possible use, Rohit Choudhury courageously takes on big guns against environmentally destructive developmental projects in ecologically sensitive zones in Kaziranga, Manas and other biodiverse landscapes. Photo: Samarjit Sharma

The quintessential bookworm, Rohit Choudhury spends his days navigating India’s labyrinthine judicial system, dodging bullets both literal and figurative, to win legal battles for conservation. Born and brought up in Bokakhat, Assam, Choudhury’s contribution to his state’s rich and threatened biodiversity is both unique and unsung. A wildlife activist, he deploys the powerful Right to Information Act (RTI) to protect the biodiverse landscapes of the Kaziranga National Park, Manas National Park and a host of lesser-known Protected Areas. Extracting valuable information from reams of case documents and reports, he has committed himself to the tedium of careful reading and research that are critical to any conservation battle. He’s working to put a halt to the unregulated dumping of garbage from Guwahati city in the Ramsar Site of Deepor Beel; fighting the unlawful diversion of the Beki river in the core of the Manas National Park at the National Green Tribunal (NGT); and petitioning against the destruction of prime elephant habitats in the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong landscape by illegal mining operations. His work on the latter resulted in the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) ordering a ban on all mining activities in the concerned landscape. Here, he has also approached the NGT to address the issue of roadkills on NH37, where dozens of wild animals die agonising deaths under the wheels of speeding vehicles when they try to cross the road. Choudhury also won a stay order on the illegal expansion of the highway from Jakhalabandha to Bokakhat. Perhaps best known for his heroic fight against the Numaligarh Refinery for blocking an elephant corridor, Rohit Choudhury faces threats from all those that he brings to task. Yet, this gutsy activist continues undaunted.

Imran Siddiqui
Tiger conservationist and scientist, firebrand environmentalist

Tenacious, scientific and solid in his approach towards the conservation of tigers in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, Imran Siddiqui is helping give the tiger and its habitat a better lease on life. Photo Courtesy: HYTICOS/WCS-India

From raising and selling poultry to fund his wildlife obsession to being on the Telangana State Board for Wildlife, an external expert for tiger monitoring in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the Assistant Director of Conservation Science at WCS-India and the founder of the Hyderabad Tiger Conservation Society (HyTiCoS), Imran Siddiqui’s been on one hell of a roller coaster ride in his pursuit of tiger conservation. Wildlife isn’t intimidated by human-drawn borders, and neither is Imran. Traversing the rugged landscapes of Kawal, Amrabad, Nagarjunsagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserves and Gundla Brahmeswaram Wildlife Sanctuary, he works in collaboration with the State Forest Departments and his crew of over 400 volunteers and 60 teammates across 10,000 sq. km. of broken chain of wilderness in Telangana and A.P. Here, he leads scientific surveys on prey analysis, occupancy surveys on mammals, helps in management planning, engages in snare removal drives, initiates voluntary relocation programmes for forest dwellers, facilitates capacity building workshops for the Forest Department and influences policy through public interest litigations, political will and strong advocacy. His efforts have seen the effective implementation of compensation schemes by the government and the initiation of a voluntary relocation project for landless poor tribals. Imran is also largely credited for the declaration of the Kawal Tiger Reserve (where he conducted the fieldwork for his Masters dissertation under the hawk-eyed mentorship of Dr. Ullas Karanth and Dr. Samba Kumar) for which he not only lobbied at a political level but also worked tirelessly for on the ground – countering misinformation spread by vested interests to win the support of local communities. A tenacious man in the field and a convincing man in the boardroom, Imran Siddiqui is in no small way responsible for the revival of tigers in this vast but obscure landscape.

Iho Mitapo
Grassroots conservationist, eco-entrepreneur and young leader

Young Iho Mitapo’s intuitive knowledge of his homeland, plus his tireless commitment and entrepreneurial spirit belie his age. He is a dogged defender of the biodiversity of the Dibang Valley, which he seeks to safeguard from unruly tourism gone wrong and from the callous attitudes of those who undervalue its immense worth. Photo Courtesy: Iho Mitapo

He spent his childhood swimming in the fast-flowing rivers of the lower Dibang valley and scaling the surrounding, unexplored mountains; now he strives to protect them. Born in the cradle of the eastern Himalaya into an Idu Mishmi tribal household, young Iho Mitapo is a force to reckon with. Soon after dropping out of high school, Iho proved himself indispensable to anthropologist Dr. Sahil Nijhawan and spent two years deploying hundreds of camera traps through the remotest parts of the Dibang valley and confidently leading expeditions to explore the area’s undocumented bio-cultural diversity. Later, he founded the i-Clean initiative and successfully set-up a door-to-door garbage collection service in Roing town in collaboration with local authorities. In 2017, when the opening of a bridge over the Brahmaputra led to a surge in unruly tourism and its accompanying handmaids – pollution and degradation – Iho and his group of friends worked with the district administration to enact a complete ban on the use of rivers and forests by non-local tourists. With a rare dynamism that stems from his incredible passion for the outdoors, Iho went on to become the first qualified river guide from the Idu Mishmi community. He also participated in a stream of seminars and training sessions that eventually led to the founding of Dibang Adventures. This homegrown start-up focuses on creating sustainable income for the community while safeguarding the exquisite cultural and biological diversity of the region. A grassroots conservationist and eco-entrepreneur, 25-year-old Iho Mitapo is the de facto leader of a generation of young Idu Mishmi men and women who are recognising the threats to their beloved land and rising beautifully to the challenge.

Govardhan Meena
Tiger defender, conflict manager and quiet changemaker

Govardhan Meena’s incredible work speaks for itself and has resulted in more tiger-tolerant villagers, inspired children and defused conflicts in and around the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. He works at the grassroot level in the largely-ignored periphery of the park with both Forest Department staff and communities. Photo Courtesy: Kids for Tigers/Sanctuary Nature Foundation

He helps save conflict tigers. Keeps his fellow tribal-community members in check when dangerous animals enter their villages and spends most of his waking hours wandering the outskirts of the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve.

Born in January 1980, Govardhan Meena grew up to be a tall, gangly boy tending livestock and keeping herbivores out of his family’s marginal farm in Raval village. A chance encounter with Valmik Thapar and Fateh Singh Rathore changed the course of his life. From a passive observer he has become one of India’s quietest under-the-radar tiger defenders. He credits Pandit Hanuman Sharma as his guru, who infused him with the joys of nature and the value of working with children. Today, he is the Pied Piper of Ranthambhore… hero-worshipped by over 15,000 children from 45 forest villages.

A vital link between locals and the park authorities, he serves as a two-way conduit, defusing tensions, communicating information and thus narrowing what used to be a grim people-park divide.

Govardhan Meena and a growing band of village-wildlife-guardians now rescue tigers if and when they fall into wells. At one time they might have been stoned to death. Ditto for sloth bears, leopards, pythons, peafowl and more.

A gentle, wildlife conservationist, he almost whispers his conservation solutions: “Our people revere nature. If they are assured crop compensation, dignified jobs and real respect they will be the best protection force for tigers. Yes, there are some who want to move away from the forest… and we should help them move out so both people and wildlife will be happy and safe.”

He wants his wife Nisha and his two young sons Hemant and Vishal to live right next to the tigers we all want protected. “I could never wish a better life for them,” he says with an inner glow.

Puja Mitra
Marine conservationist, animal welfare activist and focused administrator

Bringing the issue of unethical marine tourism to the forefront, Puja Mitra founded Terra Conscious to change the unregulated dolphin tourism industry in Goa. This she is achieving by bringing together ethical local boat operators and increasing awareness among tourists. Photo: Kaustav Patel/Sanctuary Nature Foundation

With flipflops on her feet and a laundry-list of achievements tucked neatly into her pocket, Puja Mitra is an early career-achiever in India’s marine conservation world. In 2013, armed with a degree from the University of Oxford, Mitra led a massive campaign under the aegis of the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations to ban dolphinaria in India, which led to landmark legislation on the issue. Later, she moved to Goa to launch WWF-India’s Oceans and Coasts Programme in the state as Senior Programme Coordinator. Here she spent months coordinating a field research team under the guidance of subject experts, analysing and understanding the impact of the booming but unregulated dolphin tourism industry on dolphins and identified the gaping voids when it came to the licensing, awareness and sustainability of these trips. When the government failed to legislate the tourism guidelines developed by her team and boat operators went back to their old ways, Mitra struck out on her own. Today, as the Founder of conservation enterprise Terra Conscious, Mitra is creating a bridge between ethical boat operators and conscious tourists. Working with a community of fishermen on Morjim beach, she’s providing tourists with a better understanding of marine life, following international best practices for dolphin watching and ensuring boat operators of a dignified living. Terra Conscious also extends this experience to students from schools in Goa and other states and hosts field activities and awareness workshops on marine conservation for them. Simultaneously, Puja coordinates and trains the members of OceanWatch, a stranding, monitoring and response network established in collaboration with the Goa Forest Department and IUCN, India. The network comprises a collective of lifeguards working with Drishti Marine that provides crucial data on marine mammal and turtle deaths in the state while also responding to wildlife emergencies. Dolphins aren’t the only intelligent, social beings that have found an ally in Puja. She has previously also participated in research initiatives on human-elephant conflict in the Western Ghats and Assam, and been an editor with the Captive Elephant Welfare and Management Project. A tireless, no-nonsense conservationist with a heart of gold, Puja Mitra is an inspiration to us all.


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.

Maitreya Sukumar
Student, birder, reader, writer and environmentalist

Maitreya Sukumar is all of 15-years-old, but his passion for birds and obsession to absorb as much natural history knowledge as possible, has caught the attention of experts, who agree he is a prodigy, a vital ornithologist in the making. Photo: Daanish Shastri/Sanctuary Nature Foundation

Maitreya Sukumar started young. His love of birds began when he was four. Today, 11 years later, this young naturalist has astounded ornithologists and naturalists alike. His passion, expertise, dedication and determination are beyond inspirational.

Non-birders, his parents were hesitant at first, but soon realised that his fascination for birds was visceral, prompting them to support his deep dive into the world of birds.

Predictably, young Maitreya wound up with Delhi Bird, an informal group that included inveterate birders as Bikram Grewal, Wing Commander Sethi, Nikhil Devasar, Asad  Rahmani, Paella Rasmussen, Ben King and Anand Arya. He sponged knowledge off them and soon began to send out a reverse flow of observations and insights. Ramki Sreenivasan and Shashank Dalvi became sources of reinforcement for the young lad who finds himself transfixed by both behaviour and taxonomy of mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Celebrated children’s book author Deepak Dalal, was so taken up with this young prodigy that he named one of his characters Maitreya!

A conservationist by conviction, he has raised money for the Hornbill Nest Adoption Programme at Pakke run by the Nature Conservation Foundation, mapped the birds of Jabarkhet, in Uttarakhand, for WWF-India (and added four new birds to their list). A voracious reader he devours the writings of Rachel Carson and E. O. Wilson and is currently poring through Berne Heinrich.

To date Maitreya has personally identified 850 out of the over 2,000 bird species to be found on the Indian subcontinent. And he is still just a Class X student at the Shri Ram School, Moulsari, New Delhi. We at Sanctuary believe he is a generation-next green warrior, the kind that gives us hope for the future.

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.

Nikita Pimple
Passionate educator, naturalist and conservationist

“I want to leave better children for the planet, not just a better planet for our children,” says Nikita Pimple. Wildlife is part and parcel of the curriculum of the Rishi Valmiki Eco School, Mumbai, which she co-founded and this has had an astounding influence on her students who are growing up with better grades and a gentler attitude to the planet. Photo: Prachi  Galange

Her simple philosophy says it all: “Children don’t just have the right to education, they have the right to quality education”. A superbly-qualified educationist, expert naturalist and engaging speaker, Nikita Pimple is a green teacher par excellence. Coming from a long line of social activists and educators, Nikita hasn’t just upheld her family values, she’s enhanced them. At the age of 26, she co-founded the Rishi Valmiki Eco School (RVES) for children from financially-challenged families. The school is run in four classrooms rented from a government school in Goregaon. Starting out with just nine students in 2010, this year saw the enrolment of 525 students from nursery through grade nine. At RVES, they reject the cookie cutter teaching style of conventional schools and embrace a more holistic approach to learning that is highly inclusive. Boring lectures are replaced with a story-based teaching module and activity-based learning, while a specially created wildlife syllabus runs smoothly alongside the mandated state board curriculum. When she saw the positive impact of the wildlife curriculum on her students, Nikita expanded its scope and set up the Kids Green Klub in 2014. Working in association with the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Nikita leads nature trails and workshops for Mumbai’s children, and also conducts wildlife camps in various Protected Areas in the country. This award isn’t testament to Nikita’s success, the voices of her students are. When 13-year-old Harshad Toradmal’s family moved away from Mumbai and enrolled him in another school, he was so unhappy with his strict new teachers and lack of nature activities that he pleaded for Nikita to talk to his parents and put him in a hostel in Mumbai so that he could continue to attend RVES. Nikita Pimple loves nature, loves her students and is changing lives through her devotion to quality education.

First published in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVIII No. 12, December 2018.


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