We went to Kawal wildlife sanctuary earlier this month. It was supposed to have been a birding trip, but turned out somewhat more rounded. Kawal is in Adilabad district, Andhra Pradesh. Nearly 900 sq km and supposed to be one of the best sanctuaries in the state. I hadn't heard of it before Imran told me about it.
Imran is one of the founders of Hyticos - Hyderabad Tiger Conservation Society. Together with his brother Asif, Pranay and another partner, they've decided to do their bit for the Tiger and in particular this sanctuary.
Kawal faces all the usual challenges - deforestation, degradation, encroachments, pressure from usage by forest dwellers, the timber robbers, poachers, and of course, high-up babus who insist on building wide roads that cut a swathe through pristine forests and make it easier for all the above... .
On the other hand, Kawal has 20 tigers! A little statistic that tells the story of the blood, sweat and toil put in by foot soldier conservationists who have struggled, year after year to keep that number constant and perhaps, going up. People who have doggedly worked at preserving the tiger's habitat, keeping it supplied with water, boars and sambars.. in short, making sure the forests are healthy.
We laughed but it was actually a little sad.
Any newcomer to the forest trail is invariably surprised at the inordinate delight experienced trackers show when they come across scat. It is more than a pile of shit, however - it is EVIDENCE. That the animal in question exists, that it passed this way not so long ago, and that is eating enough to, well.. shit. Also of course, the microscope will reveal far more details about the animal's health and habits.
Imran and Asif knew there was a tigress and her cubs in the area we were walking through. Still, when we found tiger scat freshly fallen (not above two days old, they said), their joy knew no bounds. They reverently wrapped it in leaves, disregarded wrinkled noses and bore it triumphantly away.
The Hyticos guys are passionate about their project, which is good to see. Their convictions, however, have a ring of desperation about them - there's the panic of the newly-alerted. They have something vitally important to say, and inevitably there's anger and frustration that no one will listen. It seemed to me like the high road to emotional burnout. I could never sustain such emotions and be effective - not for very long anyway.
In contrast, there was Waheed saab. The Divisional Forest Officer in charge of one part of the Kawal forests, he has served the Tiger in various sanctuaries for several decades now. A committed and extremely well informed man, he juggles bureaucracy, the needs of the people from whom he must protect the forests and the forests themselves.
He gave us hope with his attitude. Not cynical, not negative, not strident, not bitter. Cautiously hopeful and completely willing to do anything and everything in his power. Not attached to results (being a part of the lumberous government, he can't afford to be!) but is still willing to try. He works with the system, around it and in spite of it.
It was a lesson in letting go without giving up.