Women who defend Gujarat’s Wildlife
Amidst ever pervading prejudice of “You can’t do this” against women, there certainly seems to be an immaculate change taking place in the wilderness of Gir where women have become the torchbearers of a community- centric movement of protecting their endeared Lions.
The story dates back in 2007 with the inspirational step taken by Shri Narendra Modi to appoint Women Forest Guards from the districts of Junagadh, Amreli and Bhavnagar for the protection of Lions. Let us discover further on this unique saga of women empowerment and wildlife conservation:
How many Women Forest Guards have been appointed so far?
Nearly 40 women forest guards have been recruited by the State Government so far. These women are dedicatedly working in the areas of Forest Protection, Conservation of Wildlife, mitigation of Man- animal conflicts, Animal rescue, treatment and relief, assistance and regulation of ecotourism, research, training and public awareness.
The Forest officials have received such an outstanding response to the initial appointments that they plan to recruit 100 more women Van Raksha Sahayaks this year.
How has the roping in of village communities by women helped in protecting wildlife ?
The natural tendency of women to foster togetherness and their indomitable convincing power has facilitated the process of emotionally connecting the village and other communities with the wildlife. Moreover, it was observed that the interactions of male guards were confined to the men whereas the women guards went a step further and created awareness among women as well as children.
The women Forest Guards have played a pioneering role in conducting medical camps in the nearby villages as well as nature education trails and camps for girls between the age of 8 to 11.
It has been rightly put forward by the Divisional Forest Officer, Dr. Sandeep Kumar that it is not always a police laathi but also empathy which can lead to transformation in mindset.
Photos by Dr. Sandeep Kumar
What role have these women guards played in the increase in Lion count?
Wildlife conservation is a combined effort of checking poaching activities as well as creating a favourable atmosphere where wildlife and humans can live symbiotically. The women forest guards have successfully taken care of both these aspects.
Take for example, Manisha Vaghela, a woman guard who single handedly caught a gang of poachers in the year 2011. Additionally, more than 250 rescue operations of leopards have been conducted by these women and in total over a 600 rescue operations have taken place in Gir and its surrounding areas.This is one of the highest numbers in the entire country! As a result, The census of lions in 2010 stated that the population of Asiatic lions in Gir has grown by 13% over a period of 5 years, taking the total to 411.
How do tourists perceive the presence of Women Forest Guards?
Apart from the astounding tourism advertisements of ‘Khusboo Gujarat Ki” campaign, it is this novel step by Shri Narendra Modi of bringing women in the forefront of wildlife conservation that has drawn an overwhelming response by tourists.
The total number of tourists greatly ascended from 1,61,000 the year 2008-09 to 4,16,000 at present.
What is the Secret behind these women’s never-ending passion?
Apart from the basics of rifles, walkie-talkie radios and bikes, it is the small act by Shri Narendra Modi of providing cameras to these women that has given a further boost to the women’s fervor for wildlife conservation.
Photos by Rasila Vadher
Whether it is to capture daily rescue operations or documenting health treatment of animals, these women have used their photography as a medium of expression and positive change.
With this new found zeal, Kiran Pethia, a woman guard at the Devalia Safari Park, has enthusiastically clicked the behavior of cubs with her camera. Similarly, Rasila Vadher has found the camera extremely helpful in research documentation nd presentations.
Photos by Kiran Pithiya
In the year 2010, over a 100 cameras have been distributed and by now all women forest officials and guards have made the most of this opportunity not just to creatively express themselves but also to create public awareness with their photographs.
The journey does not end here. Official delegates from other states too have come to learn more on this community driven movement. In the wildlife, with the camera and with a community action plan effectively implemented by women, Gir has become a role model of Jan-Bhagidari for the entire nation!
With Inputs from:
- Dr. Sandeep Kumar, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Wildlife Division, Sasan-Gir
- The Cat Women of Gir Forest: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/cat-women-gir-forest-narendra-modi-women-guards-asiatic-lion/1/266623.html
The author can be followed on Twitter at @MeghnaRamchand
This article was originally published in Niti Central
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