Month Year: December 2004
Wildlife Service Award
A villager who lives around the park, he helps improve relations between villagers and the forest department. He believes that the national park is the heritage of the children of Bharatpur, explaining to villagers that the resident and migratory birds bring respect and income to the community. Ratan Singh continues to stand as a buffer between these famous swamps and those who might harm them.
Born in the Malha village next to Bharatpur, Ratan Singh has worked in the park for 25 years, first as a boatman, when his guests included luminaries such as Sálim Ali, and now as a rickshaw driver. Gifted his first pair of binoculars and bird books by Bikram Grewal, Ratan Singh soon began to stoke his interest in birds.
His desire has always been to ensure fair and friendly relations between villagers living around the park and the forest department, in order to win support for the park. Ratan visits several villages around the park, convincing people to protect the park and its birds, as it is the park that brings them international respect. A key decision was taken by the forest department to invest Rs. 175 out of the Rs. 200 paid by foreign tourists in creating common village facilities such as wells. This has helped mend relationships between the forest department and villagers, which had deteriorated after grazing was banned in the park. Today, there is very little poaching in the park. Key to winning villagers’ support was the institution of the system of cycle rickshaws to take tourists around. Over 100 rickshaws now ply in Bharatpur, earning each about Rs. 4,000 per month. Consecutive droughts in Rajasthan have again led to increased tensions in the area, and Ratan Singh continues to be a vital buffer between the park and those who might harm it.
First published in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXIV No. 6, December 2004.