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Green Visionaries

'Opulent Grandeur' Rhododendrons bloom. Credit:Vijay Bedi Sanctuary Cover Story December 2010: For 11 years, the Sanctuary-RBS Wildlife Awards have handpicked wildlife defenders from across the country and brought their exemplary work into the spotlight. They come from a variety of backgrounds, some are known for their credentials, qualifications and flawless service, others for their bravery, and some may not even have passed high school. Yet, they share common ground in their dedication and understanding of the value of forests and wildlife and their visionary zeal in protecting our natural heritage. Meet the heroes we found in 2010.

“The people who influence us the most are not those who detain us with their continual talk, but those who live their lives like the stars in the sky and “the lilies of the field"- simply and unaffectedly. Those are the lives that mould and shape us." - Oswald Chambers


We were in search of a truly inspirational being whose life was inseparable from The rough and tumble mission of wildlife and nature protection. Someone who would listen to everyone, then do what was best for the tiger and tigerland. In a world that has virtually abandoned ethics we found an ethical man whose blind faith in nature makes him stand out like a sentinel for all who search for meaning in a world going wrong.


LIFETIME SERVICE AWARD: Mahesh Kumar Jiwrajka, is a virtual encyclopedia of forest laws, a green legal eagle who could probably teach many a lawyer about the nuances of India's environmental laws - Mahendra VyasMahesh Kumar Jiwrajka has probably been more directly responsible for saving wildife habitats in India than virtually any other individual in the past few years. A part of the Indian Forest Service (IFS) for over three decades, despite his mammoth contribution to wildlife, he is probably one of India's least-known wildlife defenders because he refuses to claim credit for victories and, apart from those who have directly worked with him, or crossed swords with him, few even know he exists. Yet, he is a virtual encyclopedia of forest laws, a green legal eagle who could probably teach many a lawyer about the nuances of India's environmental laws. After serving the Maharashtra and Central Governments in various roles, he was appointed Member Secretary of the Supreme Court's Central Empowered Committee (CEC) in 2002, a position he has held ever since. Aware that wild species cannot possibly survive without untouched wild habitats, he turned ecosystem protection into the very purpose of his life. In 2009 he took early retirement from the IFS and is now identified totally with the CEC, which is mandated by the highest court in the land to protect India's biodiverse forests. A pro-active forest protector, his report to the Supreme Court in 2004 radically changed the management of India's forests, plugging the loopholes that politicians and administrators had left open to benefit those who profited from forest lands through mining, and other commerce. He was intimately involved in the decisions to protect, amongst others, the dense forests of Kudremukh and Niyamgiri from illegal mining. He is also credited with the establishment and management of India's Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority, or CAMPA, arguably the largest forest restoration fund of its kind in the world at Rs. 18,000 crores. He has stopped illegal timber merchants. He has prevented bamboo forests from being turned to pulp. On a daily basis he prevents state governments from giving facile “no objection certificates" to destroy precious wildlife habitats for construction projects.

The list of his accomplishments is long and his mission he says is far from complete. This is why we have honoured him.


For the Sanctuary-RBS Wildlife Service Awards we were in search of inspired wildlifers, forest employees, researchers, villagers, or anyone currently involved in nature conservation in the field and who has set personal standards for others to follow.


JOINT WILDLIFE SERVICE AWARD: Tana Tapi (second row, in a blue jacket) says: “The Ghora Aabhes or village fathers, such as Takum Nabum (sitting, front row, with glasses) and the Nishi people must share any credit for Pakke's wildlife success because they, including their women's self-help groups, are the Forest Department's eyes and ears - Courtesy: Tana TapiTana Tapi, Divisional Forest Officer, Pakke Tiger Reserve, Arunachal Pradesh is just such a man. He and his team work in near impenetrable forests against all odds to protect a vital park and its wildlife. For six years now, he has been setting up anti-poaching infrastructure including 32 RCC camps, 65 km. of patrolling paths and 41 km. of rough motorable roads. These measures have reflected positively on tiger densities in Pakke. When he was posted to Pakke, the park was understaffed with just 25 people employed. Between 2005 and 2007, together with upgraded facilities, the departmental strength grew to 140 with as many as 24 active anti-poaching strike squads. Backed by a fearless and loyal team, he has led uncounted armed operations against poaching gangs. By involving the Ghora Aabhe or village fathers in his efforts, including the incredible Takum Nabum, he has made the community an integral part of forest protection. “Takum Nabum and the Nishi people must share any credit for Pakke's wildlife success because they, including women's self-help groups, are the Forest Department's eyes and ears. If his simple wisdom was replicated across the country, India would have a virtual army of wildlife defenders and flourishing forests," says Tana Tapi.

This is why we have honoured Tana Tapi and Takum Nabum.


JOINT WILDLIFE SERVICE AWARD: Bibha Sonowal, Pallabita Bora, Swarnalata Bhuyan and Anita Das (above), the courageous women forest guards of Kaziranga. Theirs is the very first team of female wildlife defenders in the park and they have been patrolling this world famous rhino-tiger forest for a year now - Courtesy:GSMBibha Sonowal, Pallabita Bora, Swarnalata Bhuyan and Anita Das are courageous women forest guards of Kaziranga. Theirs is the very first team of female wildlife defenders in the park, they have been patrolling this world famous rhino and tiger forest for a year now. Their contribution far exceeds their role in checking crime by women operatives of the many armed poaching gangs that plunder this world famous wildlife reserve. Working in the same difficult conditions as their male counterparts, they conduct day and night patrols on foot and go out on raids, fiercely defending the wildlife in their charge.

They have shown courage and unstinting devotion to the wilds of Assam. This is why we have honoured them.


WILDLIFE SERVICE AWARD: Ajjinanda Thamoo Poovaiah, businessman-conservationist, was unable to stomach the devastation that unchecked tree felling was having on the Kodagu district of Karnataka; so he put together a network of local residents to fight against the all-powerful timber mafia as long as 15 years ago - Courtesy: Ajjinanda Thamoo PoovaiahAjjinanda Thamoo Poovaiah is a wildlife protector, businessman, activist and conservationist. Unable to stomach the devastation that unchecked tree felling was having on the Kodagu district of Karnataka, Poovaiah put together a network of local residents to fight against the all-powerful timber mafia 15 years ago. In the process he discovered to his dismay that there was a nexus between criminals and some forest officials. Under the banner of the Kodagu Ekikrana Ranga, Poovaiah and his team worked tirelessly to bring the accused to justice. In 2003, when he saw the same scam being perpetrated in Nagarahole, he worked to expose a six crore timber racket around a World Bank project that was stripping the forest. Pooavaiah subsequently co-founded an organisation called 'Living Inspiration for Tribals' or LIFT, to enlist locals into conservation by finding them employment in the Forest Department and helping those who opted for voluntary relocation out of the Nagarahole Tiger Reserve.

He has protected the forests of Kodagu against all odds. This is why we have honoured him.


JOINT WILDLIFE SERVICE AWARD: Arthi Venkatesham, Bhumani Venkatesham and Damsam Mallaiah (above) are part of the highly successful 300-strong team of Chenchu tribal forest guards in the Nagarjunasagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve - Courtesy:Andhra Pradesh Forest DepartmentThey are living proof that change is possible. Among our nation's most celebrated tribal communities, the Chenchus were once hunter gatherers. Instead of being lured by the all-powerful wildlife trade, these young men, more visionary than most of their urban counterparts, chose to join forces with forest officials as far back as 2001 and are now key to the park's anti-poaching strategy. These brave guards were instrumental in a massive crackdown on the deadly Bahelia poaching network, which proved to have links to the gangs that eliminated tigers from Sariska. Not only are they able to help retrieve traps and snares, they are also able to track poachers to their hideouts in the jungle with consummate skill. Researchers say that these tribal guards are able to provide them with in-depth information on the behaviour, hunting, nesting and breeding of various wild species. They also provide invaluable assistance in enumeration and monitoring meta populations, habitat viability and predator-prey analysis. As many as 300 Chenchu tribals are now part of the defence of the Nagarjunasagar Srisailam Tiger Reserve.

They have demonstrated that yesterday's traditions and skills can effectively be used to solve today's wildlife problems. This is why we have honoured them.


WILDLIFE SERVICE AWARD: Dr. Ganesh Vankhede has used science to protect habitats such as the Melghat Tiger Reserve from destructive projects including the Chikaldhara Pumped Storage dam and the Upper Tapi Stage II dam - Courtesy:NCSAHe has been a protector of wildernesses for over three decades. As head of the post-graduate department of Zoology at the S.G.B Amravati University, he has critiqued several falsified Environment Impact Analysis, or EIA Reports by academicians paid to provide a justification for the destruction of tiger habitats. He has also authored many truthful EIA reports that prevented projects such as the Chikaldhara Pumped Storage Dam and the Upper Tapi Stage II Irrigation Project from destroying the Melghat Tiger Reserve and other wildernesses in Vidarbha. His 10 PhD and 23 M.Phil students are being oriented to follow his example. Thirteen books and countless published scientific papers later he continues to work close to the ground with the Satpuda Foundation and with students who are currently documenting the ecology of spiders.

He is knowledgeable, outspoken, generous and courageous in his defence of wildlife. This is why we have honoured him.


We were in search of an individual working in an organisation whose primary purpose was NOT wildlife protection, but which nevertheless supported and provided one or more of its employees to further the objectives of conservation.


WIND UNDER THE WINGS AWARD: Vivek Deshpande has been using his pen to tell forest truths and has taken on powerful ministers, bureaucrats and the timber mafia that often operates with impunity in Vidarbha - Courtesy:Vivek DeshpandeDeshpande has spent the last decade defending wildlife the best way he knows how - using his pen. His in-depth articles have covered human-animal conflict, the illegal antler trade, the timber mafia and the occasional misdemeanors of Forest Department officials gone wrong. Not one to be cowed by money or threats from politicians, he even exposed a transport minister involved in a chinkara poaching case and a former Forest Secretary, who was ultimately accused of collusion with illegal saw mills and mines around Maharashtra's tiger landscape. His persistent reportage also exposed the darker side of the Forest Rights Act and how it was misused in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra. In search of the truth and in defence of the wildlife he loves, he has often put himself in harm's way.

In 2007, a tiger had allegedly killed four people in the Talodhi range of the North Chandrapur forest adjoining the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve. Under immense political pressure, the Forest Department eventually had to shoot it dead. Deshpande wrote with passion about the unnecessary loss of life, both human and animal. In his view that situation could have been prevented had buffer zone and corridor management practices being advocated for years been put into practice. He wrote endlessly on the subject and was rewarded when the National Tiger Conservation Authority ordered an enquiry not only into this death, but the overall condition of Maharashtra's tiger reserves. But Deshpande was not satisfied. He persevered until a Conservation Corridor Programme was devised by the state to enhance protection of carnivores and their prey outside Protected Areas.

Vivek Deshpande is a game changer who lives the dictum: the pen is mightier than the sword. This is why we have honoured him.


The Sanctuary-RBS Green Teacher Award was instituted to honour individuals working to communicate wildlife and conservation values to students. We were in search of individuals whose passion for their subject was infectious and who revelled in creating individuals more capable than themselves. We found two such individuals whose greatest joy is to open the book of nature for their wards.


JOINT GREEN TEACHER AWARD: Dr. Parvish Pandya who teaches Zoology at Mumbai's Bhavan's College gets down to earth with some of the hundreds of young people he introduces each year to the wonderful world of nature - Courtesy:Dr. Parvish PandyaDr. Parvish Pandya and Professor Sudhakar Solomon Raj have equipped their students with the knowledge they need to care for and defend nature.

Dr. Pandya teaches Zoology at Bhavan's College, Mumbai and has shaped and guided an uncounted number of naturalists. He is a bird expert, plant expert, mammal expert, reptile expert... and more! For over three decades his greatest pleasure has been to share his love and knowledge of nature and spread conservation awareness to citizens' groups, students and the public at large and he has also held training sessions for officers of the Armed Forces and academicians. A field man, he believes that the best education is imparted in the forest. The quintessential teacher, his greatest pride he says is watching his students evolve into naturalists and rational conservationists with the courage to act. sexkl

JOINT GREEN TEACHER AWARD: Professor Sudhakar Solomon Raj who founded the purposeful Wilson Nature Club has inspired and mentored hundreds of young naturalists over almost three decades. He is seen here with some of his wards - Courtesy:Wilson College Nature ClubSudhakar Solomon Raj is a political science and mass media teacher at Wilson College. He founded and heads the strong and purposeful Wilson College Nature Club whose members he has been escorting to distant forests for almost three decades in an effort to make them fall in love with and defend India's wildernesses. Teacher, friend and shaper of destinies, he encourages his students to grapple with real issues and to get involved as participants in conservation campaigns. He also helps them understand the linkages between their living and non-living heritage at sites across India.

Both these builders of tomorrow emphasise that they continue to learn even as they teach and both continue to mould and mentor hundreds of future young naturalists. This is why we have honoured them.


Nelson Mandela instructed his most trusted compatriots years ago to ensure that young persons were exposed to nature and given responsible positions early in life so that they could understand, appreciate and protect South Africa's natural heritage when they grew up. We discovered three young naturalists that would do any country proud. Respectful to the core, mission-ridden, they are reminding adults of their planet management responsibilities. They are our hope for the future.


YOUNG NATURALIST AWARD: Young Zeeshan Mirza's experience belies his age. Seen here with a chameleon he saw in the wild (and promptly placed back), he has more than 20 published scientific papers to his credit and has discovered two new species of scorpions in the forests around Mumbai's Aarey Milk Colony - Amit PanariaNaturalist, reptile enthusiast, spider and scorpion expert and researcher, at 22 years, Zeeshan Mirza has probably gathered as much natural history field experience as someone twice his age. He also meticulously documents his findings and has over 20 published papers under his belt already. When people need a snake rescued in Mumbai, they call Zeeshan. And he has already discovered two new species of scorpions, one from our own backyard, the Aarey Milk Colony. His greatest pleasure, he says, is to share his love and knowledge of nature with young children who he routinely escorts on forays into the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and Aarey Milk Colony, which he works to defend.


YOUNG NATURALIST AWARD: Sooraj Bishnoi has conducted scores of slide presentations titled 'The Treasure' for young children who he advises: “Don't wait till you grow up. The tiger needs you now.Sooraj began his wildlife journey at the ripe old age of six years when his parents took him to the Keoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary at Bharatpur. His interest was further sparked because his school Lilavati Podar in Santa Cruz was one among the 650 that had registered with Kids for Tigers, the Sanctuary Tiger Programme, 10 years ago. As a student member of the Bombay Natural History Society his passion was given still more direction. He is already a hero for children younger than himself, for whom he routinely presents his amazing slide show - The Treasure - about the need to understand, appreciate and defend nature. “Don't wait till you grow up. The tiger needs you now," he urges children. He also happens to be one of the youngest contributors to the Readers Digest, which accepted his fascinating first person story: “Why I Watch Birds". Sooraj is a living example of the benefits of “catching them young".


YOUNG NATURALIST AWARD: Monsoon Jyoti Gogoi works with the World Wildlife Fund-India's Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong-Panbari-Dollamora elephant corridor monitoring project and is also recording the butterfly diversity in the Jeypore-Dehling Reserved Forest in Upper Assam - Courtesy:Monsoon Jyoti GogoiMonsoon Jyoti Gogoi's passion is butterflies. His youth belies the fire in his belly for all things natural. He has spent the past five years recording and photographing over 500 butterfly species in Upper Assam, including some rare and endangered species that no naturalists had ever documented before. He is working with the World Wildlife Fund-India's Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong-Panbari-Dollamora elephant corridor monitoring project and is also recording the butterfly diversity in the Jeypore-Dehling Reserved Forest in Upper Assam. He has rediscovered and photographed rare species such as the white punch Dodona henrici longicaudata, pale-striped dawnfly Capilia zennara, purple lancer Salanoemia fuscicornis and the yellow-band palmer Lotongus sarala. Monsoon is by any count a remarkable boy. After graduating in Zoology, he is currently pursuing his Masters in Wildlife Biology at the North Orissa University. He has a special interest in skippers - one of the least explored of all the butterfly families. In his words: “Once a species becomes extinct or a forest is lost, it will not come back. Now is when we must work to protect all things small and wonderful."

They love forests, have a passion to save all creatures great and small, plus a burning desire to assert themselves in support of the natural world. This is why we have honoured Zeeshan Mirza, Sooraj Bishnoi and Monsoon Jyoti Gogoi.


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