What matters is the man behind a machine, so is it in wildlife management


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.


Red Silk-Cotton – Weaving Varied Blooms


This has happened just by the way. Other day my friend, Arun Pandey, from Chhattisgarh posts a picture of Cotton Tree (Bombax ceiba), popularly known as Semal in North India on Face Book. The unusual part is that it has yellow bloom! This is new for me. And this is not common at all.  That is why, Arun has posted this.  Generally, Semal has red flowers, almost maroon or scarlet.

In Delhi, it’s maddening. Invariably one is pained by pollution, traffic, work and social pressures. In spite of spring, my whole attention is on green, yellow and red traffic lights; khaki files in office; spending hours glued to laptop, criticising environment ministry for its undoing, updating website or busy in media outreach.

How and why I am so blind to my surroundings, I am unable to believe and understand. Now, Semal being at the back of my mind, I screech to halt just near the Lajpat Nagar Metro Station. I have not noticed this ever before – a Semal with orange bloom! Wow! The unique part is just 100 m further down is another Semal with normal maroon colour bloom. Both the specimen are in full bloom, loaded with tones of flowers. These together make unique spectacle.

I think, I must share this amazing beauty and uniqueness with friends. I make mental note of which spot and what time of the day to photograph these trees to get right composition and right Sunlight. I think, I will work out a day, in the coming few days, with lighter work pressure and carry my professional equipment. I know the bloom would not vanish soon.

My mind is fully awake to Semal. Yes, of course, other blooms also get registered. I am mesmerised by Kachnar (Phanera variegate), just next to my house in our small garden in full bloom – all flowers, no leaf.  Next day, I have to attend National Green Tribunal, an environmental court for a petition for protection of wetlands of the country. I take a road through the heart of the city. Oh, wherever I see, now and again, I come across Semal. Semal as it is, is a huge tree with massive trunk and spiral branches. Near liberty Theatre on New Rohtak Road there are several Semals. The traffic is so thick that I barely take a note of which tree to photograph subsequently on photo shoot day. Here again, I notice a specimen with orangish bloom.

When I am about to reach NGT, and negotiate Bara Khamba Road roundabout, there is massive maroon round canopy protruding from middle of buildings and almost reaching the sky, of a Semal growing at Mandi House, near the Metro station by the same name.

Next day, I have to go again to NGT. That is so much the better. I take down town route. I shoot the Semals near Liberty Theatre. I wonder, what composition to use. I decide to include houses, shops, people and vehicles in frame to involve the urban landscape.  What surprises me, is the ingenuity of the Horticulture Department – planted a Semal tree at the median to a narrow road!  They are not so big presently, but will grow into traffic stoppers in times to come – Incidentally, one young tree has orange flowers with petals having reddish tips.

When I pass by Gole Market, I see several Semal trees, mostly normal red – the dropped matured flowers all over the foot path, on bushes, on roof of low houses, on fences…

After attending to the work at NGT, I decide, I will shoot Lajpat Nagar Metro Station wonder.

I am passing though Lutyens‘ Delhi i.e. central part of New Delhi, largely developed by the British for offices and residences of the power that be.

India Gate is a famous landmark here. There are about a dozen roads radiating from around it. There is non-stop, fast running traffic. Suddenly, I notice a Semal tree, which has still different bloom – it is  orangish yellow! I cannot miss this. I dare to stop the car, as closer to foot path as possible, and put it on blinker and within 2-3 minutes finish the shoot. Now, the problem is that I wish to take closer shot and I am in extremely right lane while the tree is in a house at the edge of the extreme left lane. I back up in my lane for about 100 m so that the destination can be reached diagonally. Yes, I am able to do it – Happy to taken closer shots.

From Central Delhi, I drive to periphery of South Delhi. On flyover adjacent to Lodhi Hotel, I notice trees with lighter red bloom and little further down two trees with very heavy and thick bloom of regular maroon colour. I get good shots.

Another half a km, on Defence Colony Flyover, I find a Semal with almost yellow bloom! Wonderful. The canopy is parallel to the railing of flyover. So close, I can almost touch. I look down and the tree has been entirely circled by shanties – the tree appears to growing out of roof of one of these houses. Roof of all the surrounding houses is covered with Semal flowers. I notice a tree about 200 m, along the road below the flyover. That’s profile picture of a yellow bloom Semal.

And another half a km, I stop 100 m short of Lajpat Nagar Metro Station. I document the orange and maroon bloom trees together with a focus on their surviving in middle of maddening traffic and habitation all over.

Delhi has very good greenery base. There are trees such as Silk Cotton, Indian laburnum (Cassia fistula) commonly known as Amaltas, Gulmohar (Delonix regia) with conspicuous reddish bloom which paint the city bright and beautify. There are trees such as neem (Azadirachta indica) and jamun (Syzygium cumini). Of course, there is real wilderness with Aravalli Hill Range originating here and passing across the city with its scrubby and dry deciduous forests.

After enjoying the Semal shoot day, I feel like yelling, ‘hey ladies and men, get out of rat race and look around and enjoy and appreciate nature. It brings in real cheer – cheers’.

Leafless silk cotton is a sight to admire

At every nook and corner, massive & lofty

Loaded with bloom, it’s tons of flowers

Delhi is painted scarlet, maroon, red and orange

Birds are drunk of syrupy nectar &

Soon fruits ripen & cotton floss flies around

It’s a snowfall lookalike in summer in Delhi

Pushp Jain


Post Script

Red Silk Cotton (Bombax Ceiba)

Red Silk Cotton grows into a huge tree – 20-30 m high. The bole is straight, covered with short, stout, straight and conical prickles up to 1.2 cm long when young, but these are sloughed off in older parts of trees. The bark is pale ashy to silver grey in younger and middle aged trees but becomes rough with irregular vertical cracks in older trees. The wood is soft wood.

The leaves are palmately compound (look like the palm of the human hand), and 15- 30 cm long. Each leaf comprises five-to-seven leaflets, measuring 10-15 cm long and 7-10 cm wide, and arranged like the fingers of the hand, and radiating from a common petiole up to 20 cm long.

Flowering occurs profusely between February and March and is conspicuous on the leafless tree. Flowers occur singly or in clusters, large (7-12 cm across), bisexual, open, and cup-shaped, fleshy and filled with nectar. Calyx is cup-shaped with three lobes and 3-5 cm in diameter. Petals are 8-12 cm long, scarlet or sometimes maroon or orange (rarely yellowish), and fleshy.

Fruit is a capsule, oblong to ovoid, about 10-15 cm long, narrowed at both ends five-valved, light green when young, turning brown at maturity. The inner epidermis of the fruit wall produces the floss. At maturity, the seeds get surrounded by the white floss. The seeds are obovoid, smooth and 6-9 mm long. The surrounding floss helps them easily float in the air currents and get dispersed. This is what given the species name of silk cotton.

An interesting fact about the possible life of a B. ceiba is that a 727-year-old tree of the species in Mo Pagoda, Nghi Duong Hamlet, Ngu Phuc Commune in Vietnam was given the status of a heritage tree of Vietnam in March 2011.