Environmental activist T.S. Subramaniya Raja talks about his battle to protect the wildlife-rich Ayyanar Koil forest area in Rajapalayam

“Every small act in Nature has a balance in it,” says environmental activist T.S. Subramaniya Raja. Every day, he strides into the thickets as if it’s his lair. “I know the forest by heart. This was where I saw a tusker last week,” he says, pointing to the broken branches of the bael (vilwam) tree and elephant poop on the ground. “Elephants are like bulldozers in the jungle. They clear fresh patches of land as they move ahead and a new bed of grass grows on those places,” says Subramaniya Raja. In recognition of his service to environment protection, Sanctuary Asia, a wildlife and Nature conservation magazine, honoured him with the Wildlife Service Award last year. He was also presented with a ‘Special Conservation Award’ at the M. Krishnan Centenary Year Celebrations in 2012.

Born in the foothills of the Western Ghats, Subramaniya Raja launched the Wildlife Association of Rajapalayam (WAR) for Nature in response to the mindless mass destruction of the fragile landscape. WAR is a group of Nature enthusiasts working towards preservation of the forest range. “It was a tough battle against the bureaucratic system and the insensitive public,” he says.

Rajapalayam is an industrial town in Virudhunagar district, and borders the eastern slope of the Western Ghats. The forest area here is home to chital, bisons, grizzled giant squirrels, elephants, leopards and snakes.

How it began

Numerous brooks trickle down the mountain slopes to join the one wild stream in the foothills, called the Ayyanar Theertham. “Once, near the stream, I saw a dead gaur. A glass piece had pierced its hoof and it had bled to death,” recalls Raja. Noticing broken pieces of glass bottles strewn all over the forestland that inflicted injuries on both man and animal, Raja has provided first-aid boxes to treat them. The incident led his war against Nature depletion.

When he was in school, Subramaniya Raja won the first prize in a Nature-themed drawing competition conducted by the Forest Department of Tamil Nadu. He drew a spotted deer that he had seen on a greeting card. That prize motivated him to read more stories about wildlife.

“As kids, we used to play in the forest area and inform the forest officials about fishermen catching egrets. Without knowing the importance of conservation, we were protecting them,” he recounts. Today, Subramaniya Raja gathers students and cleans the forest area by picking up plastic litter. Much of his preservation work is focussed on the southern Western Ghats, through campaigns, Nature education and research. Since he believes that educating young people is the only solution to safeguard the forests and wildlife, he reaches out to them through various programmes where he highlights the importance of Nature.

He played a key role in initiating efforts to stop people from destroying animal habitat in a portion of the Srivilliputur Grizzled Giant Squirrel Wildlife Sanctuary — a check post was set up and severe restrictions were imposed on people movement.

“Nothing less than a war can protect the forests of India,” says Raja, who has won public support as he exposed illegalities in the Rajapalayam forest, now a tiger buffer zone to the Periyar Tiger Reserve.

Catch them young

WAR provides periodical training to the Paliyar tribals and involves them in environment protection campaigns. Efforts are also on to include the forest fringe as a tiger reserve as it is not a protected area yet. Regular census also takes place in this area to track the presence and movement of tigers. The organisation funds students of M.Sc. Wildlife Biology, to encourage research.