Animals
 India
Project #9807

Equip Forest Guards to Protect Wildlife in India

by Wildlife Trust of India
Vetted
Registration of Participants
Registration of Participants

Adverse conditions like lack of equipment, harsh living conditions and minimal training faced by the Front Line Forest Staff (FLFS) in India have long been a concern for the Wildlife Trust of India. WTI’s Van Rakshak Project (VRP) or Guardians of the Wild was implemented to address exactly these issues. The Project plays an important role in safe guarding India’s forests and the staff working for them through training, equipping and educating the front line forest staff. WTI has now trained over 15,000 FLFS in India.

The trainings are scheduled so that staff are initially given a first round of training and a year later, receive a refresher training course. This is so that the skills learnt in the first training are honed and also works as a confidence building exercise in their abilities.

Between August and September 2015, WTI’s team has given fresh and refresher training to 374 frontline forest staff of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh Forest Department. These fresh and refresher trainings were for the staff of Bandhavgarh, Panna and Madhav National Parks of Madhya Pradesh and Indravati Tiger Reserve of Chhattisgarh. During the course of training, the participants underwent training on the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, of India and its various sections; anti-poaching and patrolling techniques; intelligence gathering; interrogation techniques; and preparation of Preliminary Offence Report (POR). The staff also received training on the identification of various species through their pugmarks, hoofmarks etc. Mock crime scene investigations were also held to train them in crime scene investigations.  The staff’s knowledge was evaluated through pre and post-test on the training module. WTI found an increase of knowledge of 17% amongst participants. 

Temporary labour often forms a large part of the FLFS. Although some states have instituted insurance schemes, FLFS in many states remain unprotected. This proves to be a major disadvantage and deterrent to these foot soldiers to conduct their daily duties with efficiency and commitment. To overcome this, WTI ventured into India's only supplementary accident insurance scheme, which brings all FLFS in the country under an insurance umbrella. WTI also provides financial support to the front line staff of PA's and to un-insured casual workers who die or get permanently disabled, while on duty.                        

In the last two months, WTI has received two claims under supplementary accidental insurance scheme. The first provided ex-gratia support to a daily labourer from Kanha Tiger Reserve) who was injured in road accident while on duty for his medical treatment. In another case, ex-gratia support was given to the widow of a forester from Kaziranga National Park), who died in an accident. WTI maintains a Protected Area Staff Status (PASS) data base of FLFS and have signed on more than 20,300 frontline staff to ensure that they benefit from this insurance scheme.

For the next quarter, VRP training will be conducted at Valmiki Tiger Reserve and Nagzira-Navegaon and Brahmapuri forest divisions. Both Bihar and Maharashtra trainings for 415 frontline forest staff will commence in November. In addition to those training programmes, WTI plan to conduct VRP training programmes in Assam and rest of the five circles of Madhya Pradesh, including Kanha, Pench and Satpuda Tiger Reserves.

Through Wildlife Crime Prevention trainings, WTI have trained and equipped frontline forest staff of over 120 PAs in India. WTI will continue strengthening wildlife-protection measures through capacity building and morale boosting of frontline forest staff. 

Wildlife Crime and Enforcement Training
Wildlife Crime and Enforcement Training
Group Photo of Trainers and Trainees
Group Photo of Trainers and Trainees
Ex gratia check being handed over
Ex gratia check being handed over
Photograph of the trainers and trainees in Pench
Photograph of the trainers and trainees in Pench

Wildlife crime is one of the major threats to the survival of flagship species like tigers, elephant and leopards.  India’s frontline forest staff has been facing adverse field conditions and organised wildlife crime. Criminals often escape due to the staff not having proper knowledge on wildlife law, crime prevention, intelligence collection, crime investigation, reporting and procedures in the court handling wildlife crime.

Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) believes that Wildlife Crime Prevention training under its Guardians of the Wild or Van Rakshak Project (VRP) plays an important role in conservation through training, equipping and educating frontline forest guards which are a major step towards protecting forests and wildlife. With this noble aim, WTI has so far trained 14400 frontline forest staff in India. 

Between April and July 2015, WTI team have given refresher training to and equipped a total of 282 frontline forest staff of Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh. This refresher module was for all the staff in Pench that had undergone new training on the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 of India and its various sections, antipoaching patrolling techniques, crime scene investigation, intelligence gathering, interrogation techniques, and preparation of Preliminary Offence Report (POR). Their increased knowledge was evaluated through pre and post test on the subject taught and found an average 11% knowledge gain. 

Since April we have received 5 claims under supplementary accidental insurance scheme and provided ex gratia support to 4 persons including one death. We maintain a Protected Area Staff Status (PASS) data base and have signed on more than 20000 frontline staff so far to benefit from this insurance scheme including 122 new entries for the state of Assam. We have already designed and finalised posters on the scheme in four regional languages and going to distribute to the Forest Divisions of Assam, Chattishgarh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka.

For the next quarter, we have already planned to start 8 fresh and 8 refresher training in 16 territorial circles of Madhya Pradesh Forest Department, which would commence from 6th of August in Bandhavgarh and will subsequently conduct the remaining in Panna, Madhav, Ratapani, Ralamandal, Kanha, Pench and Satpuda forests.  In collaboration with Chhattisgarh Forest Department, we are also going to conduct VRP training in Barnawapara and Jagdalpur of Chhattisgarh. VRP training will be also conducted in Valmiki Tiger Reserve. Both Chattishgarh and Bihar trainings will commence in September.  In addition to those training programmes, we planned to conduct VRP training programmes in Assam, Maharashtra and Bhutan.

Through Wildlife Crime Prevention training, we have trained and equipped frontline forest staff of over a 120 PAs in India and we hope to continue strengthening wildlife-protection measures through building capacity in and boosting the morale of frontline forest staff. 

Wildlife Crime Prevention Training, Pench
Wildlife Crime Prevention Training, Pench
Ex gratia Support being handed to Staff in Pench
Ex gratia Support being handed to Staff in Pench
Wildlife Crime Prevention Training
Wildlife Crime Prevention Training

Links:

Chimmony WLS, April 6, 2015: Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) implemented a Rapid Action Project (RAP) wherein field kits were handed over to the frontline forest staff of Chimmony Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala. Each kit contains a bag pack, raincoat, cap, sleeping bag and an LED torch that will help the forest staff patrol the forests more efficiently. These kit bags were handed over by the WTI team to Shri Pius, Assistant Wildlife Warden, Chimmony WLS.


Viju Varghese, Wildlife Warden, Chimmony WLS, handing over the kit to staff.


Among those present for the kit distribution programme included Shri. Viju Varghese, Wildlife Warden, Peechi-Vazhani and Chimmony WL Sanctuaries, Shri Pius and WTI team. Shri Varghese in his inaugural speech thanked WTI and said, “Providing basic gear to the forest staff is crucial for the long term survival of the forests and its inhabitants. We are grateful to WTI for providing this basic equipment that will help the staff in carrying out their duties more efficiently.” 

WTI’s Sabu Jahas, Manager, WTI, briefed the Forest Department about WTI’s initiatives in wildlife conservation across the country and spoke about the importance of equipping the forest staff to ensure better protection of the forests and its inhabitants.


Senior forest officer handing over the kit to the frontline staff.


Chimmony Sanctuary falls in Mukundapuram Taluk of Thrissur District of Kerala. The sanctuary was established in 1984 with an area of about 85.067 sq. km and is part of the Anamudi Elephant Reserve (Reserve No.8) in the state. The sanctuary harbors several endangered and endemic species. More than 50% of the sanctuary is under high conservation value zones. 

“Considering the increasing threats of poaching and illegal logging, this diverse ecological hotspot needs to be well protected. This initiative by WTI will help the frontline staff in monitoring these forests more proficiently. It will not only make life easier for the frontline forest staff that work in one of the most difficult circumstances but also motivate them to continue their work efficiently,” said Radhika Bhagat, Head, Wild Aid, WTI. 

Explaining the Hejje system to the forest guards
Explaining the Hejje system to the forest guards

This is an account of a day spent with forest guards in Bandipur National Park in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

As the jeep rumbled past the small houses, the villagers of Chikkaelachetti barely paused in their chores to look at the vehicle full of uniformed guards of the Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF) and three civilians – Nagaraj Bhatt (Field Officer), Jose Louies (Regional Head-South India and Head-Enforcement) and me – on their way to the jungle. A few guards walking by raised their hands in acknowledgement and Bhatt reciprocated while maintaining a firm grip on the wheel as the jeep turned off the semi-paved village road onto the uneven path leading into the jungle.

Expertly maneuvering his way around shrubs and trees, Bhatt finally stopped the jeep at a point in the Kundekere Range and said, “This is where you get off and walk. Let me once again explain the Hejje equipment to two of these watchers who will be using it for the first time and you’re good to go.”

Hejje, meaning footsteps in Kannada, is an ingenious software which with its simple User Interface (UI) has brought together technology and tracking on a platform easy for the guards to understand and use. Using, literally, only a start and stop button, this android-based software helps guards collect information on the area they are walking in. The guards can even immediately take photographs as the software allows instant documentation of direct and indirect evidence of animal movement. Ten such Hejje units have been handed over to the STPF team as part of a WTI Rapid Action Project.

After a quick training session, Bhatt fished out a map from the back seat and laid it on the jeep’s hood. “You’re here right now. This is one point 5 km from here and there’s the second point 10 km away. You see that white speck on that mountain? That’s where I’ll meet you with the jeep.” Bhatt said, pointing to a hill in the distance.

Stopping every now and then to look for snare, Dore Naika, one of the forest watchers who could converse in Hindi, remarked, “We’ll probably not actually find a snare in this walk...” “When patrolling was started some years ago with WTI’s assistance, several hundred snares were found. And in this beat alone, we must have found some 200 snares. But it has been several months since we have found a single snare in the forest,” said Naika proudly.

“So is it just the patrolling and fear of being caught that has stopped the villagers from putting the snares?” I asked curiously, trying to gauge the sustainability of such an initiative. “Not really,” said Naika. “Take any village around here. We’ve done extensive awareness work with them and now, in fact, a number of them alert us whenever they get the whiff of any illegal activity around here. We’re not saying that no one here eats bushmeat anymore or poaches anymore, but the number of incidents are negligible compared to what they used to be earlier. A sense of pride in their forest and wildlife heritage has been inculcated in the locals. The village youth are also saying that they want to come and join the Department and help protect the forests.” Naika said exultantly. “There used to be just 11 tigers here in 1973 in Bandipur. Now the landscape, spread over 1020 sq km, is home to more than a hundred tigers!” he added with all the pride of a father showing off his child’s achievement.

As we walked deeper into the jungle, all we could hear at one point were the ‘seven sisters’ babbling away. A loud crack of a snapped twig suddenly broke into their babble and we whipped around to see a sambar deer galloping away at full speed, anxious to put as much space as possible between itself and us.

A novice in jungle trail walking, I was impressed by the STPF staff as they took on the uneven hillside like seasoned mountain goats, jumping nimbly over loose stones and deftly avoiding thickets and thorns. About 2 km inside the jungle, we decided to stop near a stream for 10 minutes. Even though the monsoons had begun in Karnataka and it had been raining heavily for days, that day the Sun God had decided to smile upon us (albeit a little too brightly!)

As everyone clambered onto the rocks to get the best seats in the house, I noticed Naika was wearing regular flip-flops and asked him where his shoes were. “Oh, they’re at home. I was in a hurry and just put these on. I’m used to walking in these anyway. Shoes have been given to us relatively recently, infact by WTI,” he said.

Naika then turned around and looked at Bomme Gowda, another watcher sitting right behind me. “It’s still ok for me, you know. I’m in a relatively okay position and can at least afford a pair of shoes and slippers on my own once in a while. But a watcher like Bomme Gowda who has been walking this forest for years still get paid only the basic minimum wage. How can he afford things like raincoats and proper walking shoes when he has a family to feed and an ailing mother in his village home?” Naika asked me.

I turned to look at Bomme Gowda. He just gave me a shy smile and looked at ripples made by a tadpole in the water below. “How far have you all studied?” I asked. Naika replied, “I have done my Bachelor in Education. Puneeth, sitting there, has even completed his Bachelor’s degree in Commerce. Bomme has never gone to school. The others have passed high school at least.”

“So does support, like the raincoats and Hejje tracking systems, help you all a lot?” I asked, despite knowing the answer. “Of course it does!” Naika shot back immediately, “Like I said, our salaries aren’t too high. The forest department does all it can for us but even they have their limitation. We need as much help as we can get. With the monsoons coming up for instance, a number of us were wondering how we’re even going to carry out patrolling since most of our salaries have gone home. But now at least, we know we won’t be catching a cold everyday and falling sick!”

Wondering how much I had tested Naika’s patience, I listened as he answered my umpteenth question, “10-15 km is our usual beat. Take this route we’re on right now – of the Chigrekadu beat for instance. Now this is a known habitat for at least 5-6 tigers and we have to make sure that it is snare-free. Even though not a single snare has been found in almost a year, even one accidentally left behind by us could mean one tiger less in our forest,” he said.

I asked if he had ever come across any tiger on his beat. “No ma’am,” he said with his ever-present smile. “It’s almost as if the wildlife of this forest knows that we’re not here to harm them. They probably do see us from the distance since we have found fresh pugmarks on occasion, but as long as we leave them alone, they don’t disturb us.” “It’s the elephants that we need to be wary of! That’s one unpredictable animal. We have to constantly keep our nosed tuned to their scent. You won’t even know that they’re right behind until it is almost too late.”

Pit stop over and we continued on our way to the final point some kilometers away. I was exhilarated at being away from the din of the city and exhausted from walking uphill in the jungle.

We found Bhatt waiting for us where he said he would be, armed with several bottles of water (“Special from a pond just here!” he claimed with a twinkle in his eye) and packets of Parle-G biscuits. All fed and watered, we clambered into the jeep. I took a last look at the trail we had just come up and wondered when, if ever at all, I would have the chance to walk the forest with these companions again.

The next stop was the STPF’s anti-poaching camp a few kilometers away. Loaded with only bare essentials, my attention was immediately drawn to a very sturdy iron chest in a corner of the room. “Surely, you don’t get thieves in the middle of the jungle?” I exclaimed. The other laughed as Naika explained, “That’s for our resident bears. We have one who loves to come and raid our supplies and this padlocked strongbox is the only solution that has worked,” said Naika handing me a plastic mug of ‘special drinking water’ as they liked to call the local handpump produce!

Bhatt pointed to the far end of the room and commented on them using firewood cookstoves (chulha). “It’s not good for them. They really need an alternative in here or they will seriously start falling sick in these closed quarters. Promising to look into this, Jose and I followed Bhatt and the others out to the vehicle. “We hope that we have been of help to you, ma’am.” Naika said with all the grace of a good host. I thanked him and the others profusely for humoring me and patiently answering my queries and, of course, waiting for me when I was too tired to climb up a hill after a point.

As I waved goodbye, I couldn’t help but marvel at the resilience of this lot who could have entered any mainstream industry, chosen any career they wanted to, but their valiance and loyalty to wildlife and nature kept them where they were, insisting and demanding to be counted among the Guardians of the Wild.

The forest guards need all the support that we can give them. As the new year begins, I reach out to you with a plea to help us empower these brave men and women who have chosen to protect our forests.

... and the walk begins.
... and the walk begins.
STPF staff looking for snares during the walk
STPF staff looking for snares during the walk
An eyeopening conversation
An eyeopening conversation
Guards on anti-snare walk in south India
Guards on anti-snare walk in south India

July 31st was World Ranger Day.

Usually when we talk about wildlife and forests, we agree about the need to protect it, to preserve it, to prevent the callous exploitation of nature’s treasures by those determined to profit from them.

What we do not talk about very often, however, are the men and women who are out there doing just that – the frontline forest guards of the Forest Departments.

These are the people who have dedicated their lives to ensure that another rhino does not fall to a poacher’s bullet, that another elephant is not poisoned, that another tiger does not find its leg caught in an iron jaw trap, or that another bough of sandalwood is not illegally traded.

They are the ones braving the cold biting winds of Kashmir, the raging floods of Assam, the scorching desert sun in Rajasthan, the searing heat of rocky Central India, and the pouring rains of the Western Ghats; often without basics such as jackets and caps! The guards consider neither their own comfort nor their convenience when it comes to doing their duty. They have only one thought on their minds – making sure that the forests and the plants and animals that find home within it are protected from harm.

On World Ranger Day, we express our deepest gratitude to these brave Guardians of the Wild. Without them, the forests and its denizens would have become a memory a long time ago.

‘Guardians of the Wild’ is one of the earliest initiatives of WTI. Over the last 15 years WTI has been striving to provide frontline forest guards with tools to support their mission. The support provided is in the form of training in basic wildlife law and crime scene investigation, equipping with patrolling and communication gear, and boosting their morale by privately insuring them against injury or death on duty.

We thank you for supporting us in our efforts to protect these very important partners in wildlife conservation and to acknowledge the heroism they show every single day while on duty.

Patrolling a Tiger Reserve in North India
Patrolling a Tiger Reserve in North India
Unsung heroes of wildlife conservation
Unsung heroes of wildlife conservation
 

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Organization Information

Wildlife Trust of India

Location: Noida, Uttar Pradesh - India
Website: http:/​/​www.wti.org.in
Project Leader:
Aanchal Saxena
Noida, Uttar Pradesh India

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