The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, December 22, 2002
Lead Article

Earth Heroes: Crusaders for conservation of nature

In the grand melee of fashion shows and filmi functions, which always crowd the calendar at the end of each year, the Sanctuary Wildlife Awards 2002 stood out as a tribute to the spirit and grit of India, says Vimla Patil.

Clash of the Titans by Praveen Kumar
Clash of the Titans by Praveen Kumar

THE annual Sanctuary Wildlife Awards, which are given to men and women who work ceaselessly to conserve and protect the environment and several endangered species of animals and birds, are based on this universal dictum. This year’s awards were no exception. The recent function, which brought together men who lead many corporations and financial institutions with those who dedicate time and effort to promote wild life conservation and children who are being trained to save the tiger, honoured seven men. These winners have shown outstanding results in their work as voluntary workers or government officials in the work of conserving wildlife and the jungles, which sustain animals and water resources for human beings. The event, organised by the Sanctuary Magazine’s Bittu Sahgal, brought together a large audience of wildlife enthusiasts and those who strongly believe in the cause of conservation.

Yet another feature of the event was an exhibition of the prize-winners from the annual Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards contest, presented by Amro Bank. The first prize this year went to a portrait of two tiger cubs sparring with each other by H. V. Praveen Kumar. Other prize-winning photographs featured rare species of insects and birds and a stunning picture, taken by Salil Bera, of an elephant killed by a train in Jalpaiguri, West Bengal.


Elephantine Death Throes by Salil Kumar Bera
Elephantine Death Throes by Salil Kumar Bera

The Earth Heroes came from various parts of India. Among them, P.K. Sen, the field director of the Palamau Tiger Reserve received the Lifetime Achievement Award. A man who fought insurgency, an acute shortage of funds and equipment and dealt a blow to poachers and timber mafiosi, Sen, said the citation, is known for his tough talking and efficiency. During a Tiger Symposium in 2000, Sen bravely announced that India was losing one tiger a day to poachers and that 1,50,000 sq. km. of tiger habitat had been lost to encroachment, dams, mines etc. since 1973, when Indira Gandhi founded the Tiger Project. After his retirement from the Indian Forest Service, he continues to work for saving tigers through the World Wildlife Fund — India’s Tiger Conservation Programme and to motivate forest officers and NGO tiger defenders.

The Wildlife Service Awards went to six men.

Jasbir Singh Chauhan, divisional forest officer in the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary, MP, received his award for preparing a habitat to receive a population of endangered lions as part of the Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project. He has helped relocate 24 villages from the area so that there is an increase in the population of prey animals and streams and water bodies are fuller. Chauhan and his team have created the right environment for saving one of the world’s most crucial species through a protection programme, which seeks to ensure the survival of the Asiatic Lion.

Samir Acharya, who founded the Society for Andaman &Nicobar Ecology (SANE) has created environmental miracles in the little known islands of Andaman and Nicobar. Requesting Indians to remember these islands as an integral part of India and to cherish their incredible biodiversity of the idyllic islands would one day provide answers to many researchers in plant medicine and provide knowledge about rare plants and their powers to change human life. Acharya has done critical work for environmental issues in the islands and fought a public interest litigation battle against deforestation and the consequent harm to the tribal cultures of the Jarawas and the Onges. The Supreme Court, as a result, issued orders to stop the felling of any trees on the islands. Acharya’s work, believe many experts, has given a new life to the tribes on the islands and saved the forests from ruination.

Rakesh Shukla studied wildlife management at the Wildlife Institute of India, earning Ph.D. on the wildlife ecology of Pench Tiger Reserve, MP. He won the state meritorious award for his work in the research and ecological monitoring of the Kanha Tiger Reserve, where he currently works. He started a system of daily monitoring the surviving hardground barasingha deer in the park and because of his efforts, the population of this rare species increased dramatically over the last few years. He saved thousands of sal trees despite pressure from political and industry lobbies and proved that field research and nature conservation are crucially connected.

S.S. Notey, range officer, Maharashtra Forest Department, is a tough man who has opposed poachers and illegal wildlife traders in the state. Courageous and forthright, he believes in accepting the dangers inherent to his profession. He innovates management techniques for guards and foresters in national parks. His raids on wildlife poachers have resulted in the discovery of 8000 kg of deer antlers from a politician in 2001. His medical camps for villagers around the Pench Tiger Reserve and nature camps for children have shown the way to enhance conservation work.

A.R. Bharati has worked with vision as the Deputy Conservator of Forests for the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai. He has continued his pitched battle against land-grabbing builders and slum-lords. He has enhanced the Tulsi and Vihar lakes and protected the forest, which is called ‘the green lung of Mumbai’ with the help of several NGOs and the courts. He works with children to save the forests of Borivilli and believes that protecting the forest is protecting the water resources and the health of 15 million people of Mumbai. Pandit Hanuman Sharma received the Green Teacher Award for creating a quiet revolution around the villages of the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan. A teacher by profession, he took upon himself to work with children to communicate to them the connection between the survival of the tiger, the forest and the water sources upon which agriculture and people depend. Sharma has redefined education by imparting his love for wildlife to his other love — children. He is a hero in every sense of the word.

The best feature of the awards function was the large enthusiastic audience, which stood up in admiration of the dedication of the heroes and cheered them on with thunderous applause.