Wildlife award for Simlipal saviour
Amarendra Bose, TNN 22 December 2009, 10:18pm IST
BARIPADA: For 36 years he has been guarding the forests, walking for miles even at night to protect the big cat, and has dared the bullets of marauders.
Prabir Kumar Palei, one of Project Tiger's longest-serving foot soldiers in Simlipal Tiger Reserve (STR) received the Wildlife Service Award from Bittu Sahgal, editor, Sanctuary Asia magazine in Mumbai recently.
The prestigious award was presented to the forester for his monumental contribution towards the conservation of STR for over three decades. Prabir joined as a field staff in 1974 and worked under the first field director, late Padmashree Saroj Raj Choudhury.
Present field director H S Upadhyaya congratulated Palei for his splendid achievement and said, "Keep it up!" Upadhyaya feels this honour should act as an incentive for juniors to emulate. Prabir, who received a citation and a cash award of Rs 25,000, said he was the first man in his team to defy the warning of security forces and continue to stay overnight in the Upper Barha-Kamuda (UBK) range office.
"I was happy that others in my team gathered courage to wipe out the fear psychosis that was triggered by the first ever offensive by Maoists on March 28, 2009. They have joined me in my efforts to protect the tiger." After the Maoist rampage in Simlipal, foresters were put on foot patrol only during daytime.
The citation presented said, "Prabir Kumar Palei has arrested over 100 people in a lifetime devoted to the protection of the tiger and has been attacked, ambushed and routinely threatened for his pains. But nothing is able to shake his steely resolve to protect the forest he loves. One of Project Tiger's longest-serving foot soldiers, he joined Similipal's frontline team in 1974.
Palei loves the forests and nothing could give away his love more than his rejection of coveted postings. He chose to be a simple foot soldier for 36 years. He had the good fortune to be mentored by Choudhury and literally walked thousands of miles on foot patrols. Palei "knows" Similipal like the back of his hand.
Despite Maoists terror, Palei and his team never buckled. The call of duty kept them ticking. With no roof over their head and only a damaged VHF communication tower to connect them with the rest of the world, he and his men returned to their post in UBK in the core of the forest. When warned by security forces against staying deep inside the forest after dark, he had responded: "Will you look after the forest?"
His mission now is to inspire new recruits who would have the requisite skills and passion to save the tiger. "Palei's name is synonymous with Simlipal. His service is unparalleled," said R N Marandi, another STR forester at Jashipur.