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Monsoon patrolling through the deep, slushy forest of Dudhwa
| July 20, 2018
Sheer willpower and a splash of technology is helping forest officials make their way through this difficult landscape.
It's 3.58 pm on a humid Tuesday in the forest when Jagdish Rana hears a rustle in the bushes. He signals to his team and they quietly take cover as silently as possible. They see a poacher emerge out of the bushes holding the head of a spotted deer walking away with confidence. He signals once again to his team and they rush out. The startled poacher makes a dash to escape but is captured in a few swift moves. A forest guard makes a call informing the poacher has been caught.
The forest guards serving in the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve lead a tough life, often putting their lives at risk to help conserve the forests.
A brief on Dudhwa
A tiger crosses the road in Dudhwa Tiger Reserve © Ramesh Pandey
Dudhwa Tiger Reserve is a protected area in Uttar Pradesh and spreads across the Lakhimpur Kheri and Bahraich districts. Spread over 2,25,000 hectares, it comprises the Dudhwa National Park, Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary and Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary. Extending along the Indo-Nepal border, the Terai landscape of the Bardhiya Wildlife Sanctuary, Nepal is connected to Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary through the Khaata corridor; Basanta forest, Nepal adjoins Dudhwa Tiger reserve and the grassland landscapes of Shukha Phanta reserve also in Nepal is connected to the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve and Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary. These connections to reserves in Nepal act as important corridors for the movements of rhinos and elephants.
Dudhwa is home to three megafauna species, namely the tiger, elephants and rhinos and hence protecting them is of utmost importance. In the monsoons, owing to the slushy paths, patrolling becomes more gruelling than ever.
With vehicles rendered useless during the monsoons, patrolling is done on foot, aided frequently by local village boats, tractors, bullock carts and buffalo carts (also called 'dunlops'). The department also has 22 camp elephants in Dudhwa and two elephants in Katarniaghat, out of which 13 elephants are being used in helping the patrol operations. In addition, two dog squads with metal detectors help in detecting hidden traps set up by poachers.
Patrolling with the help of local village boats © Ramesh Pandey
The newly created Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF) includes not only forest personnel but also more than 90 Police Constables, Platoon Commanders, and a Deputy Commandant on deputation from the Police Arms Constabulary (PAC).
Helping the force is Whatsapp, which has been proving to be a great tool of communication. Around 24-26 teams communicate through Whatsapp by sharing locations and pictures. Machans have been constructed in areas of network and messages are relayed through these floating network areas.
Patrolling is aided with the help of an app called M-stripes. Explaining the tool, Ramesh Pandey, Field Director tells, “M-stripes, launched by the NTCA in 2011, is an easily downloadable app on any android device. It tracks movements during patrolling, maps the routes covered, stores the wildlife and crime data entered into it and links it to a back-end database. A log is maintained by the database and based on the log and the information collected, one can change the course of the paths to cover a wider area. The M-stripes tool only works when one moves; hence one cannot pretend they are patrolling and this acts as motivation to keep covering the routes with full enthusiasm.”
The porous Indo Nepal border proves to be the biggest challenge in patrolling the forests. Poachers who enter and exit via Nepal have found the easy freeway; making it almost impossible to track them down. To counter this problem, every quarter a border meeting is held where the police, administrators and forest department exchange information and intelligence.
In addition to poaching of animals, the forest is home to Sal, Teak and Shisham – valuable trees that the local gangs try to cut down and sell outside. The inundated areas make it difficult to access all areas of the park and hence, vigilant patrolling is of utmost importance for both the forests and the animals within.
Often, they are understaffed and have limited resources, but this doesn’t let hinder the spirit of the staff in protecting the forests. The Department is slowly gaining momentum and greater efforts are being made to secure this vast and contiguous forest area.
After a gap of 34 years, the second phase of Rhino Rehabilitation program in association with WWF India, has begun to take shape. One male rhino and three female rhinos have been shifted to the Bhadi Tal area in an attempt to increase their population.
In collaboration with WII, Dehradun drones will be used to monitor grasslands, sensitive areas, and Rhino rehabilitation starting next week. The sky-eye patrolling will help survey these fragile areas that are otherwise impossible to be protected on foot.
With the help of drones, grasslands can be monitored better © Ramesh Pandey
Speaking of protection on foot, the forest department in partnership with Sashatra Seema Bal (SSB) has planned to do long route patrolling, covering 20-50kms a stretch. To celebrate long route patrolling, on the Global Tiger Day, 29th July, teams would be divided into regions and each team would pass on a metaphorical baton to the next at the end of its long patrol. The entire 24 hours would be covered in patrolling this way.
Ramesh Pandey says, “The forests are humid, and one gets drenched in sweat within minutes. The task of being a forest personnel is not just physically challenging but is also emotionally challenging. Guards stay away from their families for months devoting their blood and tears to the forests.”
The brave force of Forest personnel protecting Dudhwa National park © Ramesh Pandey
Devoting one’s life to the forest isn’t easy, but these brave men and women are beating all odds to make Dudhwa a better place for the wildlife. Through their selfless service they are ensuring the future generations will be able to experience a forest and the wildlife.
Written by Meghana Sanka