The brave hearts of Bandipur Tiger Reserve

Few watchers have served since the days of ivory thief Veerappan

The brave hearts of Bandipur Tiger Reserve

As conservation efforts of the exotic species of our country despite countless hurdles, slowly bears fruit, it is easy to forget the contributions of the individuals, who are responsible to an extent, in keeping the animals safe.

Though the efforts of Special Tiger Protection Force and at times photographs clicked by camera traps meant for the identification of wild animals have helped in keeping poachers at bay, it is often the contributions of Anti Poaching Camps (APC) that ensure safety to animals ranging from the large elephant to the small mouse deer.

As many as 41 APC’s have been installed in 11 ranges that constitute the 689.52 square kilometre area of the Bandipur National Park. Each camp, according to Conservator of Forests and director of Bandipur Tiger Reserve (BRT), Kantharaju H C, consists of six watchers.

Among the six, one is a permanent employee, while the rest are day wage labourers -- a majority of them belonging to various tribes of the region.

Simple mathematics shows that each APC, has an average area of 16.8 square kilometres for routine patrol. With tigers, leopards, dhols and other carnivores at the reserve, job of a watcher is one of the riskiest job around.

Veerappan scare

Chikkamadaiah, is an experienced watcher at the Volakallare Camp, in Bandipur region of BRT. Having served for 34 years, he is one among the permanent employees hired by the Forest department.

His experiences of tracking animals and poachers have helped in saving the lives of many wild animals that majestically roam the reserves.

“During the early days of my career, Veerapan and his gang of poachers were at their peak. To make matters worse, I was hired as a watcher around Kallanbetta, where Veerappan used to frequent.

On one hand there were the wild animals. On the other there was Veerappan. Many watchers quit the jobs fearing for their lives, especially due to the Veerappan factor. After his death, poaching incidents have dropped, and our job is comparatively safer,” he said.

Though there are many incidents when we have put their lives in line against the poachers, helping the officials of the department to put them behind bars, the watchers rue that their work often went unrecognised or unrewarded.

“At the end of the day, the credit goes to officials,” he meekly said.

Mahendra, a Kadu Kuruba too has served for 13 years as a watcher. Explaining the hardships of the job, he said that he had to spend the nights in complete silence, taking cues from animal calls to ascertain whether poachers were present in the area or not.

“At night, we keep watch on shifts. Atleast one of us will be awake. Though the job was intimidating at first, experiences have made me a little braver,” he said.

Improving conditions

The poor conditions of the APC’s have slightly bettered in the last few years. The camps which just had kerosene lamps for lighting a few years ago, now has solar lights and solar charging units.

Trenches have been dug around the anti-poaching camps to prevent elephants from entering the camps.

A private firm recently provided the APC’s with LED rechargeable torches. “We are also providing the watchers with uniforms, shoes, rain coats, boots and other necessary utensils to run the camps.

While communication between anti-coaching camps was almost non-existent in the past, now are equipped with walkie talkie and static sets, easing the job of tracking poachers,” said Kantharaju.

Ganesh, the junior watcher at Volakallare camp, with just four years of experience recalls the day when he first heard a poacher’s gun shot in the thick of the night.

He recalls rushing with other watchers towards the direction from where the gun shots were heard.

“We saw a tiger lying in a pool of blood. Though the poachers were eventually caught, the sight of the majestic animal dying helplessly has given me nightmares,” he said.

By day and night, the watchers patrol the jungle with ever present threat to their lives, keeping the tigers, elephants and other animals and birds at the park safe, from humans.

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