Protecting the Protectors: HCMF Wildlife Warrior Awards
The 3rd edition of the HCMF Wildlife Warrior Awards, organized by the Hem Chand Mahindra Foundation and Saevus Magazine was hosted on April 3rd 2021. The awards seek to recognize, celebrate and felicitate the bravery and sacrifices of the oft-unsung foot soldiers protecting our wilderness: forest guards and foresters.
The event may be accessed here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=1072590709817680&ref=watch_permalink
The morning of 3rd April 2021 saw the culmination of months of detailed planning and intense hard work as Saevus hosted the virtual award ceremony of the Hem Chand Mahindra Foundation Wildlife Warrior Awards, 3rd edition. The plight of the Forest Guards in our National Parks has often been ignored or forgotten, and yet, the very survival of the denizens of the wild depends on their commitment and dedication. The Wildlife Warrior awards is a step towards building a positive future for our green unsung heroes. Hem Chand Mahindra Foundation(HCMF) in association with SAEVUS magazine has been motivating and strengthening this crucial group of individuals through the initiative of the HCMF Wildlife Warrior Awards. In its third edition, 12 Forest Guards at DNP and at Manas Tiger Reserve were rewarded with INR 50,000 each.
Awardees from the Manas Tiger Reserve (top) and Desert National Park (bottom) being felicitated by the IFS officers of the respective regions.
Forest Guards are the frontline defence for the protection of our wildlife — be it the Desert National Park (DNP), the Manas Tiger Reserve or anywhere else in the country. They are the first to know of breaches in the form of poaching, illegal grazing or other unlawful activities that may be taking place. “The desert-like, inhospitable conditions at DNP, with an acute shortage of Forest Guards, leads to chowkis being often managed by only one guard. This scarcity spells doom for the safety and survival of the various species they can watch and protect” commented Shri Ashok Mahindra, founder and trustee, HCMF.
“The forest camps, in Manas Tiger Reserve, only have basic facilities such as a hand pump for water, a room with a camp cot, a kitchen and a toilet. Due to their remote locations, electricity and running water are luxuries and may not be available. Malnourishment, exposure to malaria and water-borne ailments are some of the causes for concern from prolonged stays in these camps. There is the threat of poachers, timber smugglers, grazers, and various armed groups. The compulsion to use 0.303 rifles or DBBLs as the only weapon of defense makes them extremely vulnerable while defending their territory against a mob of encroachers or militants” said Dr. Sonali Ghosh.
The winners were selected by an eminent and independent jury consisting of eminent conservationists Dr. MK Ranjitsinh and Dr. Asad Rahmani, Trustees of HCMF, Mr. Ashok Mahindra and Mr. Vinod Mahindra, and CEO and Editor-in-chief of Saevus, Ms. Sree Nandy. Dr. Naveen Pandey and Dr. Sutirtha Dutta, senior researchers and conservationists, were the Field Scrutinizers for Manas Tiger Reserve and the Desert National Park respectively. In a first of its kind, the programme attempted to sensitize the young generation by involving children as School Jury from two schools, Don Bosco in Guwahati, Assam for Manas Tiger Reserve and Cambridge Court High School, Jaipur for Desert National Park.
The eminent panel and guests
The awardees from DNP were Durgaram, Danveer, Hajara Ram and Kamlesh Kumar Jani. The awardees from Manas TR were Jaydev Narzary, Amit Boro, Lachit Borgoyari, Manu Pathak, Pranjal Talukdar, Buddhiswar Boro, Jaisron Basumatary and Jatin Brahma.
Dr. MK Ranjitsinh, visionary conservationist and the writer of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act was present in the award ceremony and addressed the Forest Guards in Hindi, “Many a times, you, the forest guards do the sacrifice, do all the work, but the credit is given to the officers… Whatever of our wild animals are being saved and protected, are only there because of the Forest Guards efforts. We thank you for your hard work.”
Eminent conservationist, ornithologist and ex-director of BNHS, Dr. Asad Rahmani commented that he had been visiting the Desert National Park for 40 years, since 1981, and has seen the hardships of the guards at close hand. While a lot of development of infrastructure has been made, the hardships by the guards remain the same.” While commenting on the flagship species of DNP, the great Indian bustard, or Godawan which are being helped to reproduce in the protected areas and enclosures, he commended the researchers, officers and guards for their dedication and service.
Shri Kapil Candrawal, DFO of Desert National Park couldn’t attend the event due to his responsibilities in the field, and sent a video message, where he mentioned the challenges faced by the foot soldiers at DNP and congratulated the forest guards. Shri Sagar Pawar presented the certificates to the winners who had gathered at his office to attend the award ceremony. He mentioned that “The forest guards at DNP are as endangered as the GIB that they are protecting.” Shri Amal Sarmah, FD of Manas NP presented the certificates to the winners who had gathered at his office to attend the award ceremony. He promised that while the people from Manas had face great challenges as well as opportunities, they will work harder to improve the situation at Manas.
Dr. Sonali Ghosh, former deputy director, Manas and DIGF, Central Zoo Authority congratulated the winners and thanked them for their hard work. She gave a heartfelt plea to all saying “As a fellow forester, it is my humble submission to everyone in policy-making, that we need recognition for our forest frontline, probably the same we give to our armed forces, … probably a basic insurance, probably a ration, probably free education for their children. The kind of facilities that the armed forces are able to provide to the families are unparalleled in terms of the support, and I think that we need to do the same for our forest frontline, to motivate them and keep up the incentive. Initiatives like this from Saevus and HCMF go a long way.”
Dr. Sonali Ghosh, former deputy director, Manas and DIGF, Central Zoo Authority, addressing the gathering
Shri AM Singh, PCCF and HOFF Assam was also present and had to say that “Life is so difficult for the frontline forces in the national parks… seeing their sincerity and dedication… from the core of my heart, I would like to congratulate each one of them (winners) for getting this recognition which will definitely give them a lot of motivation to work harder in their future.”
Dr AJT Johnsingh, foremost field biologist, retired Dean, Faculty of wildlife sciences at WII, NCF, and WWF India and Dr Kedar Gore, Director, The Corbett Foundation were present and congratulated the winners while commending HCMF and Saevus for organizing the initiative to award the forest guards.