Saturday, 26 March 2016

Guardians of the forests..!

Cool breeze teased my body, natural odor of mud-mixed with unseasoned rain rejuvenated my senses, tobacco plantations looked more greener than usual, sky had distinguished patterns. I experienced all these on the way to Gaadipalya Anti poaching camp. The forest dept jeep cruised through slushy roads of Nagarahole forests. I was on an assignment..!

It all started when I met Mr. Surendra Varma, who leads Friends of Elephants--an informal group to bring awareness on asiatic elephants. He had taken up a project to study elephant killings, human-elephant conflicts in critical areas..well, basically everything related to asiatic elephants. His findings would be well documented and submitted to Karnataka Forest dept so that necessary measures can be taken to reduce mishaps. I was part of one of the assignments linked to this project--The barrier assessment. I was fortunate to learn a lot from him during this assignment. 

Nature, to prove it's existence often demonstrates interesting things. We boarded a bus to Mattigodu forest check post from Hunsur. The rain god probably went mad and showered his blessings as we entered Kodagu district after crossing Hunsur. As we looked behind, not a drop of water in hunsur region, but heavy rain as we traverse through dense forests of Kodagu..it was amazing..! One state, totally unpredictable weather..!

First glimpse of APC.
The officials had informed forest guard and the watchers about our arrival. They greeted us with a smile, but with surprised face too. One of the watcher showed us the small house they live in. It had a dedicated room to store vegetables, groceries and also communication equipment. Backyard was converted into a kitchen where few fire wood were dumped. 

The APC.
Veggies Stored in Store room.
It was a simple set up consisting of--rock benches to sleep, a small garden to grow vegetables and flowers, solar powered lights instead of electricity, rain water harvesting for both drinking and washing purposes.

Rain water Harvesting.
Hand pump to pull harvested water.
The staff of Gadipalya-APC were extremely friendly and kind. They clarified our purpose of visit to the camp and what help we were seeking from them. They offered simple rice and sambhar with hot drinking water, all cooked using ancient methods. 

Cooking at APC.
Darkness gathered the camp, I felt wild life activity would have just begun somewhere in the dense forest. All of us entered the camp and shut the main door to prevent any intrusion. Since there was not much to do, we started interacting with the staff. They understood the motive behind our visit and suggested critical places where human-elephant interaction was seen frequently.

The staff explained how difficult is to chase wild elephants away from farm lands with limited options. Many forest watchers belong to tribal hamlets and are hired on temporary basis by KFD. They know nook and corner of the forest region which is a plus point in tackling major issues.

One of the forest watcher, who was recently married said he gets to see his family once in a week. Summers would be the worst time for them as they have to tackle forest fire. Although, poaching and tree cutting have come down to a larger extent, small snarls are quite often found during their patrols.
Many NGOs have stepped forward to provide proper clothing to APC staff since they have to patrol the forests on daily basis, beating different weather conditions.

The staff helped us in identifying crucial areas where elephant barriers were broken, man handled. Their foresight in handling human-elephant conflicts were considered and documented.

When I was about to leave, I thanked one of the watcher for his help. He replied with a smile "Sir, it's my job to help everyone who helps in preserving forests. I may not earn more like others, but am happy here. This forest is my home, I will protect it."
His words struck wonder of joy inside me. It is hard to imagine the condition of our forests without these guardians, a big salute to them..!