They scale forested hills, scamper down steep rocky slopes, slip over wet rocks, grasp tree trunks to regain their balance, and continue their patrol. India’s forest guards trudge through treacherous terrain while out on patrol duty. And that’s not all, there are more dangers along the way – confrontation with armed poachers; accidentally, coming uncomfortably close to tigers, leopards or sloth bears; being bitten by snakes and scorpions. They patrol the wilds, braving all perils, to protect India’s biological wealth.
In this series of multimedia blogs, I will share small slices from the life of forest guards, and reflect upon my experiences walking with them; cooking and eating with them; flinging grass seed-balls; cleaning waterholes; uprooting weeds; and spending nights in remote protection camps, my sleep punctuated with deer alarm calls.
Video by Rizwan Mithawala/WCT
In this video, forest guard Dnyaneshwar Shinde from the Melghat Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra, talks about the fires that ravage the reserve in summer. Central India’s deciduous forests are highly vulnerable in these dry, hot months – fires are a regular affair. Guards like Shinde are on high alert. This is the toughest time of the year for them; they call it the fire season. Spreading rapidly, fires sometimes engulf vast tracts, and take several days to douse. Guards camp in remote, inaccessible areas, fighting fires for days on end. Till their colleagues bring them food and water, they sometimes survive on forest fruits like amla; the fruit is rich in Vitamin C (proven to reduce stress) and water. “Iss se pyaas control ho jaati hai thodi (It quenches the thirst a bit),” says Shinde.
My pursuit is to know what it takes to protect vanishing animals and shrinking forests; to know what it feels like, being away from family and human society, and only be concerned about waterholes, firebreaks, camera traps, and grass seeds. To know what it is like to live the life of a guard, I will follow them, a pen and diary in hand.
Rizwan Mithawala is a Conservation Writer & Editor with the Wildlife Conservation Trust and a Fellow of the International League of Conservation Writers.
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