For four years Sanctuary Magazine has been scouring this country in search of earth heroes whose lives have been dedicated to protecting our wildlife. They all said their stories were simple, that they were ordinary people following ordinary dreams. But their achievements have been immense. Without a shadow of doubt, the initiatives they launched demonstrate that we can and will win the battle to protect and nurture the ecological security of the Indian subcontinent.
Here they are:
Range Officer Girish Vashishtha, Tadoba, Maharashtra: A frontline defender of the tiger, he is part of an effective team of forest guards, rangers and officers that has restored the bamboo jungles of the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve. Well known for his tough, uncompromising ways, he has used ancient strategies that had been successfully employed for aeons in India to restore streams and rivulets, which have begun to run full for longer each year. This has in turn encouraged prey animal populations to rise, directly benefiting tigers and making Tadoba one of the finest Tiger Reserves in India. Today his concerns for the future of Tadoba centre around protecting it from poachers, coal mines and timber smugglers. His unflagging devotion to the forest and its wildlife are an inspiration to foresters across India. For this we honoured him.
Abdul Rahman, Forest Guard, J&K, is the third generation of his family to have worked in forests such as Dachigam and Overa in the once happy Kashmir valley. During his thirty years of service with the Wildlife Department he has brought an uncommon honesty and diligence to his work. His love for wild creatures was imbibed from his father. His personal integrity and extraordinary courage have been revealed in his actions – catching armed poachers, working in times of political turmoil and extreme adversity. As a teenager he accompanied and assisted Dr Salim Ali on bird trips, imbibing from him a deep love for all things wild. He is one of the silent heroes working to save the highly endangered hangul deer of Kashmir from extinction. His single-minded devotion to the wildlife and forests in his charge, with no thought of personal reward or gain, are a lesson to us all. For this, we honoured him.
Bhupen Talukdar, ACF, Guwahati, Assam. Tough. Uncompromising. Effective. These words sum up this defender of the rhino. His study of Assam’s alluvial grasslands have led to the formulation of management prescriptions that can vastly improve the habitat for the rhino and lead to an increase in their numbers. But he is no academician. When rhinos were being systematically wiped out in Manas in the nineties by international poaching gangs in league with insurrectionists, Talukdar and his colleagues forged themselves into a wall of resistance in Kaziranga. They resurrected the endangered Indian one-horned rhinoceros here and will forever be remembered for warding off the extinction of this endangered pachyderm. Talukdar’s encounters with armed poachers are legendary. Showing no fear, he has systematically taken on and destroyed rhino poaching gangs operating around Kaziranga, once again making this beautiful park safe for the rhinoceros. For this we honoured him.
Sarang Kulkarni, Marine biologist, dive instructor and former newspaper seller. One of India’s upcoming marine biologists, he loves the sea and would probably fit himself with gills if he could. He has done his Ph.D on coral reefs in the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, Andamans. He undertook a series of studies on the conservation status of coral reefs in the Andaman islands and these helped identify several new records of corals for the islands and India. Possessing an ideal mix of science and activism, he is not averse to lobbying with Members of Parliament and Supreme Court committees for the protection of India’s seas. He recognises that healthy oceans are vital not only to the livelihoods of millions but to the viability of Planet Earth itself. His efforts in 2001 helped put scores of marine species including the whale shark, giant grouper, corals and sea cucumbers on the highest level of protection by the Government of India. This was a milestone in the history of marine conservation in India. For this, we honoured him.
T Venkatesh, Range Officer, Karnatka. The bane of timber smugglers and poachers, he served in the Bhadra Tiger Reserve, Karnataka for nearly seven years. Here he apprehended key leaders of the politically well-connected timber mafia, which had been ravaging Bhadra. He improved patrolling by reorganising his staff and establishing anti-poaching camps in his range. His excellent fire management measures sharply reduced the incidence of forest fires in his range, leading to a spurt in natural regeneration and an increase in the prey base, which in turn led to an increase in tiger sightings. Bhadra is today one of India’s finest Tiger Reserves and a vital habitat for India’s national animals. Venkatesh is presently posted at the Nagarhole National Park, where his dedication, persistence and experience continue to make a vital difference to the protection of India’s wilds. For this we honoured him.
Billy Arjan Singh, tiger defender. For the Sanctuary Lifetime Service Award. We were in search of a true hero whose life had been devoted to the protection of wildlife and wildlife habitats, whose life-purpose was to defend wild nature and who could be held out as an inspiration to the youth of this great country. Billy we found just such a man. A living legend, he is considered by many to be the ‘godfather’ of the movement to save the Indian tiger. He was one of the first to recognise and publicly drive home the fact that the tiger would never be safe unless its forests were protected. This is why he chose to live in tiger land in the terai forests of Uttar Pradesh near the Nepal border at Dudhwa. From here he has been working to protect tigers for over four decades. Today, he continues to live at Tiger Haven near Dudhwa, from where he keeps a close watch over the wilderness he helped save. Weight lifter, reformed hunter and thorn in the side of all those who would harm the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, Billy would like to simply be remembered as a man who loved tigers and fought to keep them alive and safe from humans. For a lifetime devoted to the protection of the tiger, we honoured him.
To know more about the Sanctuary Wildlife Awards, sponsored by ABN AMRO Bank, or to send us new nominations for the year 2004, log on to www.sanctuaryasia.com.