In the wild, it’s code green for software engineers

Wildlife enthusiasts help Karnataka forest officials build bridges with villagers around tiger reserves

November 05, 2017 10:06 pm | Updated November 07, 2017 08:03 am IST - Bengaluru

  Opening up:  Volunteers ensure snares are not placed in buffer zones around parks like Nagarahole.

Opening up: Volunteers ensure snares are not placed in buffer zones around parks like Nagarahole.

Software engineers in Karnataka are practising a different kind of code over weekends: acting as a bridge between forest officials and villagers who live on the fringes of tiger reserves. The forest department has started a volunteer programme, encouraging this growing tribe of wildlife and environment enthusiasts to help the villagers turn conservationists.

An informal group of around 20 software professionals — all under 35 years of age, and calling themselves Swift Wildlife Action Team or SWAT — has been going almost every other weekend to fringes of tiger reserves in Southern Karnataka and foothills of the Western Ghats for the past three months. Their agenda is to be the eyes, ears and even the voice of the department.

“We just have casual chats with villagers, and after some time they open up with complaints about forest officials such as delayed crop loss compensation or restrictions on movement. In turn, we try to tell them the importance of forests and wildlife, of forests helping to produce rainfall and rivers,” said Vinay S., a group member.

Volunteers ensure snares are not placed in buffer zones and help with measures to prevent forest fires. The group has gone to more than 35 villages and submitted seven reports to Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife). “We found that in check posts at Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary (CWS), the guards lacked torches, shoes or rifles. It was impossible for them to control crowds and we sent a report,” said Rajesh T.M., a software engineer.

The department responded by providing guards with equipment, and ensuring that policemen were present to deal with the crowds heading towards popular spots like Sangam and Muthathi.

The programme comes at a time when there is some animosity towards the department among the residents. Recently, villagers locked up forest officials in a CWS check post, and at Nagarahole, Bannerghatta and Bandipur, relations with officials are strained.

Looking for poachers

With the new initiative, the office of the PCCF (WL) is trying to rope in more volunteers. “With more volunteers coming forward, it may help us create awareness on conservation and build confidence that the department is for their welfare, and that it takes action only against those indulging in poaching and snaring,” said Punati Sridhar, PCCF (WL).

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