Besides cracking the whip against several poachers and tree smugglers, Chandrakant has rescued 546 snakes, including king cobras, in his time.

Busting poachers saving snakes This Ktaka Forest Officer is a dedicated eco-warrior
news Environment Monday, November 20, 2017 - 08:02

Fighting for forests and the creatures that live in them is a difficult, uphill battle in India, even if you have the authority of the government behind you. But Chandrakant Naik, the Deputy Range Forest Officer of Karnataka’s Kali Tiger Reserve has never let himself lose hope.

For 17 years, Chandrakant has gone above and beyond the call of duty to protect wildlife in the forests under his charge, working tirelessly to tackle threats such as poaching, smuggling and forest fires. For his contribution towards wildlife conservation, Deputy RFO Chandrakant has been awarded an RBS Earth Heroes Award by The Royal Bank of Scotland.

What is most surprising about Chandrakant’s efforts, though, is that he first arrived at the Forest Department as just a way to give his family a better life. But, once on the job, he fell in love with the wild, and transformed into one of its most dedicated protectors.

Chandrakant was first given a job at the Forest Department on sympathetic grounds, as his father too had worked there.

“I was in preschool when my father passed away. My mother, who is an inspiration to me, brought me up all by herself. I am from Sanekatta village in Gokarna taluk and the area is famous for salt factories. I used to work at a salt factory and my salary was only Rs 280 per month. In 2000, the Forest Department offered me a job as even my father, who had died, was in the same department,” Chandrakant recounts.

Chandrakant had begun working at a salt production unit soon after completing his Class 10 board exams, so that he could support his family.

So, when the Forest Department offer came up, Chandrakant only thought about how much he could provide for his family. “I never thought that I would come to love my job so much. At the time, I only wanted to make life easier for my family,” he says.

First posted as a Forest Guard, Chandrakant learnt to know and love the forests thanks to help from some the local Gouli and Kunbi tribespeople living in the region. “I was posted in the Zamga section of Kulgi Wildlife Range in the Kali Tiger Reserve. My superiors used to say that I must be well versed with the names of all the trees and animals of the region as I am from Uttara Kannada district. But I did not know anything,” Chandrakant reveals.

“The Goulis helped me a lot. I used to show them the trees and they would name them for me. I memorised every single name. I learnt how to identify the scents of different trees. I learnt what birds lived in the range I was assigned. Every detail is important as all of it is interconnected. If you are in the field long enough, you will know. It is my home now,” he explains.

Chandrakant’s  attention to detail helped him bust several poaching and tree smuggling rackets. Even as an ordinary Forest Guard, Chandrakant always went out of his way to check poaching, says Manoj Kumar, his then superior and currently the Chief Conservator of Forests in Kodagu.

Between 2009 and 2011, the Kali Tiger Reserve witnessed rampant attempts to poach wildlife, Chandrakant recalls. Despite the pressure from various stakeholders, he managed to register several cases against poachers, and busted many tree smuggling rackets.

“You know how it is when politicians and their relatives are involved. There were a lot of threats to my life at that time. But my senior Manoj Kumar and my team always had my back. We busted a lot of rackets because we worked as a team,” Chandrakant says.

Chandrakant also played an important role in recruiting support for conservation efforts from locals living around the Kali Tiger Reserve. He recalls how, when he first joined the Forest Department in 2000, the area was plagued by rampant forest fires and poaching.

“The locals believed that setting fire to the forest would help them get a good yield for their crops. They were very superstitious. They also had this perception that forest officials were the enemy. When we registered cases against them for the crimes they committed, they would set the forest ablaze as revenge. Soon I realised that for establishing some level of peace, the Forest Department and the locals had to coexist,” he says.

Chandrakant then began roping in locals for various conservation projects. “My aim was to make them understand that preserving the forests was for their own good. Earlier they would poach monitor lizards, wild boars and deer. After roping them in for our conservation projects, instead of killing the deer or wild boars that wandered out of the forest, they report it to us,” he explains. 

The DFO is also an expert snake rescuer and has rescued 546 snakes in his time, including king cobras. He has also trained eight other forest officers and now they work as a team to help rescue snakes in the region.

“I learned how to catch snakes from the National Geographic channel. I was bitten by a krait once, but that did not stop me. I am from a small village. We do not have the concept of fear. Maybe being scared never crossed my mind. I was always comfortable doing my job,” he says.

Chandrakant also discovered a new species of frogs in Sanekatte, a few years ago. He photographed the frogs and submitted them to the Indian Institute of Science. “They named it as a new species after the scientists visited the area and observed the frogs. I can’t recall what they called it though,” he says.

For all his achievements, Chandrakant refuses to take too much credit for his work. Indeed, he says, many more officers from the Forest Department could do much more to help the environment, if only some modest facilities are provided.

“We need better binoculars and good cameras. With this, our jobs will become easier. Also, Forest officers keep getting transferred. They should make it a point to pass on the knowledge about how many trees, birds, mammals and reptiles were saved during their tenure,” he says.

 

 

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