A look at the winners of the Sanctuary-ABN-AMRO awards honoured for their efforts in saving the environment.
SEVENTY-year-old Chander Singh Negi does not believe in using guns to confront tigers. "I talk to them instead," says Negi, who started work with the Forest Department in Garhwal when he was 16. "I have caught so many poachers and some of them were people from my own department. When I was transferred to Hailey National Park (later renamed Corbett National Park), tigers were so common that I used to see them walking on the roads," recalls Negi, popularly called Jolly Uncle. Now he works for Corbett Foundation. He is called on to identify cattle killed by tigers outside the Corbett tiger reserve and work out a compensation for the owners.
Negi is among those who have won the sixth Sanctuary-ABN-AMRO Wildlife Awards, 2005, presented in Mumbai last month. The awards recognise and reward "Earth Heroes" who fight to protect the environment. For the first time an entire team from the Gir Wildlife sanctuary was given a Wildlife Service award. Twenty members of the rescue team work round the clock to protect lions and other animals from being poached. Between them they patrol an area of 2,000 sq. ft. and try and reduce the human-animal conflict that is inevitable under the circumstances.Young Naturalist award winner Vishal Bansod, an architect by training, works with the Nature Conservation Society in the Melghat tiger reserve, Maharashtra. He has taken part in two studies on the spotted owlet and the wild buffalo. The other Young Naturalist awardee, Bharat Kamaliya, who lives in Junagadh district, protects sea turtles and was inspired by Mike Pandey's film on whale sharks to take up their cause. A std. XI student, he is part of a youth group, which patrols the coastline to monitor sea turtle nests and spread awareness on the need to conserve the endangered whale sharks.Like Negi who won the wildlife service award, K. Manu has dedicated his life to the protection of wildlife, in this case, pelicans. An engineer by profession, his interest in wildlife began since he was 10. After 18 years in conservation, 10 of them devoted to pelicans in Kokkare Bellur village, Manu has no regrets. Kokkare Bellur is one of the five most important pelican nesting sites in India and Manu's Mysore Amateur Naturalists has played no small part in this. Since his work there, many things have changed. Now people help with conserving the birds and many social changes are also taking place in the village. His biggest joy is that two graduates from the village are now helping in his work.
This year the tiger crisis was the dominant theme and, for the first time, there were four awards on the subject. Indian Express was given the "Wind Under the Wings" award for exposing the death of tigers in Sariska in January 2005. Since then, its correspondent, Jay Mazoomdar has travelled to many tiger reserves and written extensively on the dwindling tiger population. Belinda Wright, O. B. E., founder and executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, was given a special tiger award for her work in exposing the tiger parts trade, often at great personal risk. "The end of the tiger is in sight in India," said Ms Wright. "Tiger skins are now being smuggled to Tibet as a fashion item and people wear it as a fashion statement." The special tiger awards also went to 13-year-old Kirat Singh, and B.K. Sharma, DIG, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Sharma, who heads the wildlife cell at CBI since it was set up in 1995, has followed the trail of the tiger parts trade which eventually led to the arrest of the notorious poacher Sansar Chand earlier this year. He says that the animal parts trade had now shifted to skins and it was fairly organised too. The volume of money in the trade has increased manifold. Kirat, a std. VIII student at The Shri Ram School in New Delhi, says, "Tigers are a symbol of the health of a forest and if we can protect it, then it shows we are responsible people." His mentor at The Shri Ram School, Madhu Bhatnagar, deputy head, has won the green teacher award this year. Her motto is `don't ask the government what it can do, do it yourself'. The school is a zero garbage zone and works closely with rag pickers, who are in turn helped with their schooling.
The Sanctuary-ABN-AMRO lifetime service award winner, Dr. A. J. T. Johnsingh has very clear ideas on how to protect wildlife. "Secure landscapes and forest areas and don't lose them on any account. Create corridors between forest areas and also make certain regions inviolate." You have enough people to tackle poaching and trade but once the forest areas diminish there will be tremendous stress on animals. Dr. Johnsingh who retired from the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun, believes that once forest habitats are inviolate, tigers will resume breeding as he found in his work in the Chilla range in Rajaji National Park in Uttaranchal.