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..!
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 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.
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..!