WWF-India staff’s timely act prevents poaching attempt in a critical Central Indian tiger corridor

(Note: First published here.)

The Kanha-Pench Corridor
The Kanha-Pench corridor in Central India offers crucial connectivity between the two important tiger source populations in Kanha and Pench through extensive tracts of forests. Such forest corridors offer much needed contiguity between different tiger populations, thereby preventing their isolation as well as subsequent loss of genetic vigour, and help in long term tiger conservation.

These corridor forests have water holes that are used by wild animals dispersing through the corridor during the summer months. These spots are vulnerable to poaching as poachers can easily target wild animals, including tigers, coming to drink water through use of traps and poisons. For the past two years, WWF-India’s Satpura Maikal Landscape (SML) Programme staff members have been engaged in extensive monitoring of such waterholes in the Kanha-Pench corridor during summer to prevent waterhole poisoning. The monitoring is done in collaboration with the Madhya Pradesh state Forest Department.

One such crucial water hole is located in the Atarwani beat of the South Seoni Forest Division in the corridor near the Pench Tiger Reserve. During tiger monitoring exercises it was found that tigers and other animals such as gaur, barking deer and several species of birds frequently visited this waterhole during summer.

The Poaching Attempt
On the evening of 29th March, Girish Patel, WWF-India Field Officer, while on his scheduled waterhole monitoring came across a group of villagers at the water hole. As he recounts, “I saw a group of villagers from different villages namely Atarwani, Sakhadehi, Dhobisara and Darasi. Curious, I asked why they were sitting there. They replied that they were just passing by. So I started moving towards the waterhole and to my surprise they followed me and I suddenly saw nets set up with bamboo near the waterhole. In a flash, I understood from my experience working in this area what they were up to. But instead of reacting in shock, I behaved normally and asked them about the nets. They admitted that they setup the traps for small mammals and birds. I casually took photographs and shot some video for documentary evidence. I soon left and immediately informed the Range Officer of that place as well as the Divisional Forest Officer and my seniors”.

Unfortunately, by the time Forest Department personnel reached the spot the suspected poachers had decamped but the traps setup around the water hole were confiscated. Due to the documentary evidence collected by Mr. Patel an arrest warrant was later issued against the suspects and the case is currently under investigation.

Prompt and decisive actions such these will create a deterrent among potential poachers and hence reduce the frequency of such incidents. Increased vigilance in this area will lead to better protection of tigers and other wildlife which in turn will improve the functionality of the critical Kanha Pench Corridor.

An Open Letter To Goddess Marriage

Dear Goddess,

I’m pretty sure you must be a woman created by women because no sensible man would ever conceive you unless they were drunk, brain dead or bewitched by some woman. Let me ask you straight up. What, in all that is good in this beautiful world’s name, is the life threatening, earth shattering necessity to marry? More than that, why on earth are Indians, in particular, so bent on getting married as soon as the number 2 enters in front of their age? Is it some national cultural genetic switch that gets turned on as soon as we enter our twenties? And then every woman and man transforms into this partner seeking missile that will not rest until it has homed in on its equally clueless but activated target.

I understand marriage is an important legal institution that is perhaps the backbone of modern civilization. But please, my dear relatives, friends, neighbors, colleagues, family friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, uncles and aunties, and random well wishers, let me choose the time when I want to marry. Do not hound me at every random marriage of the second cousin of my mother’s first cousin with questions about how I’ve not settled down yet! Please stop pestering my parents too. And please, pretty please with nice Belgian black chocolate wafers on top, do not offer to look for women for me or upload my profile on some random matrimonial website. I’m all of 31 years old and therefore an adult by every possible legal, biological, social and cultural definition. Let me find my own woman, dammit!

It is another point entirely that sensible women who do not melt at the very thought of marriage and do not go weak kneed at the very sight of a child are so rare to find in India. I mean, for god’s sake, maine pure Hindustan mein chaan bheen kar liya, but so far only have inflated travel bills and a carbon footprint that will scare the bejesus out of the climate change advocates to show for my efforts.

Let me ask you dear goddess, since you being of the other sex, why are almost all Indian women so enamored to commit themselves to the slavery of man and become factories of reproduction? I’ve seen women give up their careers, their individuality nay their very freedom to satisfy their man and keep some archaic institution called marriage going. Have they really been brain washed by all the brainless bollywood Shah Rukh/Karan Johar combo romances into blind submission?

And men, my poor dear comrades-in-gender. Alas! What is wrong with you? On one hand you sing paeans to the joys of bachelorhood and beer drinking and then in an instant you bind yourself to the boring, mundane anonymity of marriage. And your stock answer is, “Mummy ne bola tho shadhi kar liya, aur kya karoon?” Aur kya karoon? Don’t you have a brain crazy person?

You see dear goddess, there is no hope left in this world. One ofter the other, I’ve seen my friends take the plunge and disappear into some strange alternate universe that is peopled with only other married people who all speak the same weird language of “nahi yaar, aaj nahi, ghar mein wife wait kar rahi hai”, “no dude, I’m no longer lucky like you, she will have my balls if I go home late” and the saddest of all “arrey, woh din tho gaye ab, home minister wait kar rahi hai ghar par, jaana padega dost”.

Is this what I also have to look forward to? A life of rigid discipline, unending nagging and constant arguments? Whatever happened to companionship, mutual space, trust, and those two most abused four letter words in the world – true love? Call me old fashioned, foolishly romantic or if you are being very uncharitable a ch***ya or a f**king stupid idiot but I firmly believe that if you cannot find the woman you want to spend the rest of your life with then you have no right to get married, leave alone let your parents find you your life partner!

You must be wondering, dear goddess, after reading about 700 words so far, what is the blooming point of this letter? Worry not madam…point pe aa raha hoon main. Please spare me dear goddess from this torture until I want it! Since even the gods need a lit bit of give and take, let’s make a simple deal…I’ll find all the bakras you need from both sides of the gender divide to keep your business going. In return you spare me from the stupidity of never ending questions from all and sundry. Isn’t this a win-win deal?

Thanking you for your earliest attention.

Yours gratefully,

From Pobitora to Manas

An eye witness account of the translocation of rhinos carried out in Assam between 27-29 Dec 2010 and 17-19 Jan 2011.

Note: An edited version of this was first published as a special feature in the Jan-March 2011 edition of Panda.


It is 5 am on a Tuesday morning, towards the end of 2010, and a thick fog conceals the vast grasslands of the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, located about 60 km east of Guwahati. I’m on the back of an elephant, for the first time in my life I should add, sitting behind the mahout and hanging on for dear life with one hand while trying to shoot with a video camera with the other hand. We are following three elephants, each of which has one veterinarian equipped with a tranquilizing gun. Much ahead of them, lost in the gloom of the fog, is the locator team. Waiting behind at the elephant camp is the logistics team along with forest department officials and guards, WWF and other NGO staff as well as a host of other support staff. All of them are part of the team tasked with translocating rhinos from Pobitora to Manas National Park in northern Assam under the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 (IRV 2020, see below).

The sun is still not up but a faint glow suffuses the fog. An occasional bird call and grunts of the elephants disturb the stillness of the early morning. I slip into a pleasant limbo induced by the gentle rocking of the elephant. But it does not last long. A burst of static shatters the stillness. The locator team is contacting the veterinarians through the wireless. And they have some good news. They have found a couple of rhinos and apprise the team of the location. We rush together into the fog. By this time the sun has risen and is a pale disc hanging low in the sky. Suddenly, a little ahead of us, a silhouette resolves itself into the thick outlines of a rhino. Behind it is another rhino.

The First Attempt

The elephant I’m on falls back a little while the elephants of the tranquilizing team take up a triangular position to box in the rhino and enable correct targeting. Each tranquilizing gun is loaded with a diluted solution of the powerful narcotic-Etorphine. I’m told one undiluted drop of which if exposed to bare skin is capable of killing an adult human within minutes! However, the rhino doesn’t play to their plan. It quickly cuts through the fourth side before the doctors can take proper aim. We follow him and there begins a fruitless chase that lasts more than an hour and a half. By this time the sun has climbed the eastern sky. The fog has also cleared improving visibility. The tranquilizing team decides to leave this unsporting rhino alone and they move to a different location with the locator team. I return to the base camp to join the remaining translocation team there. I’m actually grateful for the chance to dismount the elephant, even if it was an enjoyable experience, as it was not easy shooting with one hand while hanging on to only a rope with the other hand.

The Second Attempt

The locator and tranquilizing teams then move off to a new location in another part of the sanctuary in the hopes of having better luck at finding rhinos. But little did they know that their luck would stay rotten until early afternoon. After a series of near misses, partial hits and uncooperative rhinos the tranquilizing team finally meets with success and manages to tranquilize a female. The rest of us rush to the new location to find the rhino tottering with her concerned calf hovering nearby. A decision is taken to tranquilize the sub-adult rhino also as it is a female too and more importantly would keep the mother and her calf together.

The mother quickly falls asleep and the logistics team swings into action. A bulldozer is brought in to dig a shallow trench next to the tranquilized rhino so that a platform can be placed there onto which the rhino can be rolled. This is soon accomplished.

Helping the tigers of Kopijhola

(Note: a modified version was first published here.)

Advocacy to protect an important forest block in Central India’s Kanha-Pench corridor

The importance of corridors
Tigers need space due to their territorial nature. Sub-adult tigers are forced to move away from their birth ranges to adjacent protected areas to establish new territories. In this process they make use of available corridor forests that connect protected areas. The Kanha-Pench corridor covering an area of 16,000 sq km in Central India offers such crucial connectivity between the two major tiger source populations in Kanha and Pench through extensive tracts of forests. Together with the Kanha-Achanakmar corridor in Chhattisgarh, these forest tracts form one of the most important tiger habitats in the world. Such forest corridors offer much needed contiguity between different tiger populations, thereby preventing their isolation as well as subsequent loss of genetic vigour, and help in long term tiger conservation.

The Kopijhola Forest Block
The Kanha-Pench corridor is made up of different forest administrative blocks. One such important forest block is Kopijhola-Sonekhar, covering an area of 182 sq. km. The Kopijhola village has a population of about 450 people who depend on the forests for livelihood. In spite of the human settlement, the area around Kopijhola has good bamboo forests, mixed forests and teak plantations.

A survey on tiger occupancy by Wildlife Institute of India and WWF-India recorded the presence of tiger in the Kopijhola-Sonekhar block, including a direct sighting. This forest is also home to other wild animals like leopards, hyena, wild dogs, sambar, four-horned antelope, spotted deer and palm civet, to name a few. Subsequent to the tiger occupancy survey, WWF-India’s Central India field team consisting of Senior Project Officers-Sanjay Thakur and Jyotirmay Jena undertook a rapid survey of the Kopijhola Forest Block to assess its biodiversity and current status. During the survey, apart from megafauna, the team also recorded 30 species of butterflies and 57 species of birds. River Hirri flows across the forest block and has water availability even in summer. This availability of a perennial water source has resulted in the presence of sufficient prey base for tigers.