Wildlife Service Award
Tiger defender, conflict manager and quiet changemaker
Photo: 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.
First published in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVIII No. 12, December 2018