I make first quick round of the Panna Tiger Reserve (Madhya Pradesh, India), after arrival early in the morning from Delhi. Wonderful. Wildlife is all over the place – Cheetal, Sambar, Wild Boar, Chinkara…
I get back to the Karnawati FRH where I am lodged. As I get out of the vehicle, one gentleman greets me. I do not know him but nevertheless courtesy demand, and I reciprocate. I see, he is six feet tall, slim & trim, thick moustache, smart man. I get the impression ‘this man must be from army.’ We do not talk.
Later in the night, the caretaker, Bhure Lal peeps in to my suite while I am relaxing and scribing notes of the day, “Sir, Range Officer is here to see you.” As I rise to welcome, here enter the gentleman about whose greeting me in the morning, I just narrated. Pleasant surprise. There is no physical sign of his being a Forest Range Officer – no potbelly, no dullness, no shrewd looks…
The gentleman is Amar Sigh Gond, Incharge, Madla Range of Panna. I ask Bhure Lal to manage a drink. Amar politely declines, “Thank you sir but I do not drink anything.” And adds, “I only take simple meal.”
Strange. I ask myself, “Can there be a simpler person in forest service, that too in a wildlife sanctuary, who does not drink, does not drink even tea, supper teetotaller!” Bhure Lal later informs me, “Very rarely, he takes few sips of tea, out of courtesy to provide company to a senior guest.”
Amar tells me, “Sir, I have walked every inch of Panna.” That’s commendable. It’s one-line complete introduction of a forester. These days even guards need bike to go around forest. Amar’s mobile keeps ringing, non-stop. He is either giving orders or taking orders.
You may wonder, ‘why I am writing about a person in my wildlife blog?’ Indeed, I think, it is equally important to talk about wildlife managers and for that matter about persons who have devoted themselves to wildlife conservation.
Amar’s contribution is immense. Just for the background, Panna lost all of its tigers because of various reasons, including mismanagement around 2000s. This unfortunate situation was beyond belief. A plan to rejuvenate Panna was perceived by reintroduction of tigers by relocating surplus animals from other Tiger Reserves. First tiger was reintroduced in Panna in March 2009 and immediately after this Amar joined the Reserve. He has been part of tiger reintroduction success story, almost from day one.
Amar is tribal to core, literally. As his surname indicates, he belongs to Gond tribe of Central India – Joint service 21 years ago in 1996 as a humble Forest Guard. Incidentally, he belongs to the nearby area, Buxwaha in adjacent Chhattarpur district of Madhya Pradesh.
Initial days of ensuring security to relocated tigers have been very tuff. Keeping track of tigers without satellite radio collars was always testing job.
Amar has been a keen wildlifer. He says, “I used to climb and sit in trees regularly for hours to watch and monitor wildlife.” He proudly narrates the story of a tigress, numbered as T 2. “While I am up in one tree in Madla one day, T 2 with four cubs arrives and settles below the tree. The camera noise alerts the cubs and they look up. The tigress also notices my presence. Interestingly, the tigress does not feel threatened and remained below the tree for more than an hour!”
Amar’s immense courage in protection of wildlife and controlling wildlife crime have been duly recognised n number of times. He has received several awards and recognitions. Latest being the State Wildlife Conservation Award 2016 few months ago. Similar award he got in 2011 also. Amar has received formal appreciation letters and awards from the Panna Tiger Reserve and Wildlife Conservation Trust several times. Amar proudly adds, “Sir, I received appreciation from the Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests, Shri Jairam Ramesh ji also in 2011.”
It is apparent the management has posed full confidence in him. Though he is junior rank official but has been assigned a senior post. Yes, he is a man of rule and law.
Amar says, “I am most happy working for and watching wildlife. The day I am not able to go to forest, I get depressed.”
In the end, I may add, forests and wildlife are under pressure – encroachment, poaching, tourism, development…. Amar is very important and India needs more Amars.