And sometimes, if you look deeper, will you uncover a few secrets that will leave you inspired. The expanse of wild lands, interactions with relocated villagers and wildlife volunteers led me to one man – who is known for his unflinching determination to save this magnificent reserve.
Responsible for closure of several dams, resorts and mines, educating and training thousands of people to motivating and supporting more than 450 families to relocate from the Bhadra, renowned wildlife conservationist DV Girish proves it time and again that what thousands cannot do, one man with passion can! In a tête-à-tête chat, we get to know more about the man.
Girish grew up admiring the majestic Bababudan Hills. He devoured these hills every morning from the window of his house in Kaimara, Chikmagalur. Born to a family of coffee growers, Girish spent his youth exploring forests, birding and learning about wild animals. “I love the forest and wildlife in its natural form. I enjoy scouting, a skill I picked up early in life. But, I slowly began to notice chunks of forests being destroyed and exploited by man every passing year. I was exasperated when I saw people destroy it, and I displayed zero tolerance,” says Girish. In his younger days, he didn’t just pull up on lorries illegally transporting wood, but even risked facing threatening groups alone. With no forbearance for anyone who debilitated forests, during his teens, Girish often, “called forest officials egging them to act against logging and poachers. My instinct was to stop the very ‘act’- it never tired or daunted me to protect what I love.”
A big breakthrough…
Initially, the 20-year-old planter was intensely scrutinized by two stern mentors, forest ranger K. M. Chinnappa and ecologist, Dr. K.Ullas Karanth. They did not allow him to go on the first line-transect he wanted to participate in Nagarahole National Park. He recalls, “I was amidst two people, who really inspire me, and I knew my learning began at that moment. Dr. Ullas Karanth has guided me ever since. I learnt how to channelize my energy productively and implement actual ground conservation from him.”
Having spent hours on end understanding the forests intimately, Girish suggests that wildlife conservation is not a weekend job. “Even working seven days a week is not enough. When witness to an illegal activity like logging, just informing the forest officials does not help. It needs follow up, one needs to constantly keep an eye out and scout for many such incidents and stay on the job till its addressed or resolved. Habitat destruction and poaching are one of the biggest threats to wildlife and wild lands today. Lack of awareness just acts as an accomplice. Proper tourism regulation and management is another issue I dedicate my time to,” says Girish.
In the year 1993, with assistance from Dr. Ullas Karanth, Girish started working towards relocation of villages from Bhadra forest under government sponsored relocation program. “This really did try all my patience, for I waited for seven years for it to finally happen. We motivated 457 families in Bhadra to relocate by 2003, and ensured each family received all compensation packages promised by the government post relocation. This has been gratifying in many ways. I understood the problems of the villagers, I knew every stage of their struggle, and post relocation – it felt great to see them embrace the mainstream way of life with grace. But above everything else – it was the restoration of the forest, to what it could have been 100 years ago – and that was highly satisfying, to be able to bring back a lost time, and retain its former glory,” says Girish, who is highly satisfied if he can save even a single tree, “It just takes that much to keep one elated.”
Talking about relocation, Girish explains further, “We need to accept the fact that wild animals and humans cannot live together. Conflict will always exist as a single most dominant factor among the two. We also need to acknowledge the truth that human beings add pressure to their surroundings. Clearly of the two in this battle for survival, man is more adaptable unlike a habitat-dependent wild animal. Secondly, there are no villagers living inside the forest today in Karnataka who are not yearning for economic growth, opportunities to merge with urban India and better lives for their families. Not only do the villagers get to live a better life outside the forests, wild animals within the forest regain their habitat – allowing for both involved in this battle for survival prosper.”
Talking about the current generation, Girish exclaims, “People are disconnected with their roots – with nature. Even governing bodies and forest officials lack basic knowledge, often wanting to meet set targets without understanding why or how. There is serious dearth of long-term vision, backed by weak policies and lack of sense of duty. Everyone thinks from a commercial perspective and not ecological. There is no respect and regard for wildlife – and this is worrisome,” he says, adding, “The ‘Sunday wildlife conservation’ attitude won’t work. You cannot conserve anything in a day. You need to give it time and dedication. Also, visiting a forest a few times does not mean that you have ‘figured it all out’. This attitude among the youth seriously needs to change. Besides, I think every citizen of this earth is duty-bound to save nature. It’s time we all do our bit – to be earth-friendly!”
Girish was awarded the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), ‘Protect the Tiger’ Award, under the RBS Earth Heroes Award for 2013, on November 15, 2013. His previous accolades include the Karnataka Rajyotsava District Award in 2001, the Carl Zeiss Wildlife Conservation Award in 2002, and the Tiger Gold award in 2004 in recognition of his outstanding services to wildlife conservation. Girish continues doing what he knows best – protecting the forest! “I simply want to see what I love alive – not dead in a poacher’s hand. Before he fires that bullet, I would like to catch him. Being a conservationist is not easy. Those against it cannot destroy the movement but most often have succeeded in disarming its supporters. But every time you watch wild animals –free in its natural habitat– you know it’s worth it.”
– The article appeared in The Alternative: link