Armed with a stick, Pappu protects the tigers
Rashpal Singh / DNA
Sunday, July 12, 2009 2:43:00 AM
Every morning, as the first rays of the sun touch the Lapur chowki, Pappu Lal sets out on his day’s journey deep into the Ranthambhore forest, with just a stick in his hands and trepidation in his heart. Pappu and his fellow guards are the ‘bravehearts’ entrusted with the task of guarding the Royal Bengal tigers at this national park from the onslaught of poachers.
While the media and a slew of NGOs and wildlife experts are ever ready to pounce on the park whenever reports surface of poaching or the death of a tiger, what goes largely unnoticed is the plight of the forest guards who are expected to brave all odds and risk their lives for a measly pay packet and with almost no support.
A bamboo stick and a walkie-talkie set are all they get to save themselves and the tigers. For electricity during the night, they have to depend on solar-powered gadgets which seldom work in the rainy season.
So what do they do when they run into a wild animal or poachers? Well, what do you expect? The usual response from these unarmed guards is to run for their lives and then use the walkie-talkie to inform the forest officials about the hazard.
Is it any wonder that it’s not just the tiger population which is dwindling in the country, but also the number of guards? The shortage of staff at the park prompted the Rajasthan government recently to recruit a few ex-servicemen. They were considered to be battle-hardened for the job, but they really don’t have any experience in protecting tigers.
Nobody has cared to find out if these guards have what it takes for a daunting task like this. Do they have any interest in wildlife or nature? Besides, they’re working for paltry sums of Rs5,000 to Rs8,000 per month, and it’s hardly a surprise when reports come from time to time of forest guards conniving with poachers and turning a blind eye to illicit felling of trees and hunting inside the park.
When this DNA correspondent visited the park and talked to the guards, this is what Pappu Lal had to say. “For me, guarding the forest is the only means of earning a livelihood. In the jungle, we often come across wild animals, without any weapons with which to defend ourselves. There is danger from poachers too,” he said, while fixing up a quick lunch for himself before setting out for another round of the jungles.
Hanuman Prasad of Thumka chowki, who had just returned from the forest where a tigress had passed by him at a distance of 20 feet, doesn’t seem too excited when asked about his experiences of guarding the pride of India. “Sahab yeh hamari naukri hai, karni to padegi (Sir, this is my job; I have to do it).”