GREEN WARRIORS The awards recognises people who have made protecting the environment their business. MEENA MENON
(Above: Aamod Zambre and Vishal Bhave)
“Scorpions,” whispers 21-year-old Aamod Zambre, a zoology student from Pune, when asked what his special interest was. Winner of this year’s Sanctuary Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS) Wildlife award for Young Naturalist, Aamod’s passion for nature has taken him to the pristine Eagle’s Nest Sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh.He has several accomplishments to his credit already. He has written five papers which are under review and one of them is on a sub species of the Jerdon’s pit viper, while the rest are on scorpions. He has been unearthing different scorpion species in various states. “No one is really looking closely at scorpions,” is how he plays down his success.
For 10 years, the Sanctuary RBS Wildlife Awards have encouraged youngsters like Aamod, apart from recognising the work of foresters, conservationists, journalists and photographers. An earlier award winner, journalist Prerna Bindra points out that this was one of the few “green” awards and it was encouraging to get some kind of recognition. Hanuman Sharma known as Panditji who works in Ranthambhore, says, “When I was selected for the award, I realised I am not alone. My work focuses on tigers and I spread awareness through my songs.”
This year’s other winner of the Young Naturalist award, 23-year-old Vishal Bhave, has been studying sea slugs since a year as part of a Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) project. But his interest in sea slugs developed much before that. He lives in Ratnagiri and in the inter-tidal areas on the coast his research has discovered 40 new species of Ophistobranchs apart from 40 new species in Gujarat. “In India till the 70s only 60 species of sea slugs were recorded, in the last few years this number has jumped to 250,” he says. Vishal is going to head a new Marine Centre in Ratnagiri and is a keen underwater photographer. Nature conservation has gained ground specially in the light of climate change and in the Garo hills in Meghalaya, illegal coal mining is threatening one of the last rich forest stretches in the Balpakram National Park. Or it was till Prosper Marak and the Garo Students Union (GSU) took a stand on it.
“On July 19, we stopped a bulldozer from digging up places near the park,” says a reticent Marak, an award winner this year. For the first time the GSU’s move created waves. Since three years, the Park was under threat and there have been protests. But stopping the bulldozer was the first direct action the GSU carried out and it has also spearheaded the formation of a Chitmang Hills Anti Mining Forum which filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a stay on the illegal mining in the region. A similar concern to protect the last vestiges of nature on the planet has prompted film maker Mike Pandey to focus on the tiger. “I want to make a feature length film that is engaging, factual and make people understand the link between the tiger and the food chain. If you understand something you begin to love it and you protect something you love,” he says.
The way to save the tiger is to involve the local communities and make it important for their livelihoods and survival. “Climate change knows no religion or country, we are on our knees now. That is the power of nature, one shudder by the earth and you are on your way to extinction,” says Pandey.The flicker of hope lies in the youth and the efforts of Paresh Porob, a range forest officer from the Bondla wildlife sanctuary in Goa. Fascinated by forests as a child, Porob led a movement to clean up the weed-infested Carambolim lake, an important wetland, before he joined the forest department nine years ago. His efforts forced the high court to take notice and the lake is now a protected area. Goa has four wildlife squads for emergencies, thanks to his efforts. He was part of surveys that resulted in identifying two wildlife sanctuaries in Goa — Mhadei and Netravali.
The Wildlife Service awards went this year to Mike Pandey, Dr. Divya Mudappa and T.R. Shankar Raman, Prabirkumar Palei, Paresh Porob and Narhari Pandurang Bagrao. Bagrao, 23 years in the forest service, has been part of a quiet revolution in the forest ranges of Shahpur in Maharashtra. “Since 1990, I worked with six villages to set up a very good model of joint forest management (JFM) and the entire degraded land has been revived now. In addition villagers help in forest protection and we catch timber smugglers and poachers,” he says. Bagrao is in demand to motivate other villagers to joint the JFM. He smiles shyly when people mention the “Bagrao formula” but accepts that it has worked. Like him Palei, a forester from the Simlipal Tiger reserve in Orissa has risked his life protecting wildlife.
Students of natural history have had teachers like Dr. Marselin and Sarah Almeida from St Xavier’s college to help them along. Dr. Sarah, a feisty 70-year-old, is a research guide and a former director of the Blatter herbarium at the college. Sarah has carried out some 15 projects which have resulted in extensive research on the flora of Ratnagiri, Sawantwadi and an ethnological survey of Goa. So busy was her life that she says she could not take care of her children. The couple have been given the Green Teacher Award jointly, a fitting cap to their highly energetic careers.
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