Ranthambhore's Knight on Prowl
It is late night & entire Ranthambhore has already fallen asleep including the guards on various forest posts except for one individual. Having finished his ‘unproductive desk work’ as he prefers to call it, this man is getting ready to do what he likes doing most, spending his time patrolling ‘Sawai Man Singh (SMS) Sanctuary’, a significant yet lesser famous part of Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve.
The deafening silence of the wireless & sleep of the half-awake operator in the control room is broken by the message “control saintess saintaalis control” (vehicle 3747 calling control room). The operator does not need any further information & he knows that the night watchman of Ranthambhore is out on the prowl protecting the forests & their denizens. The message is brief” 3747 gasht note karo” (vehicle 3747 out on patrol).
To people who watch Ranthambhore's affairs closely, he is one of the most low-profile but active officers. While even the forest guards of adjoining Ranthambhore National Park do find their piece of glory at one time or the other, this man of few words prefers to stay away from the limelight.
The man Himself
He is Mr Rang Lal Chowdhary, present Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF) Sawai Man Singh Sanctuary & is also officiating as Assistant Conservator of Forests (Core Area) Ranthambhore. A man of the field, he is always on the move visiting forests & guard posts, overlooking work carried out in Sanctuary, liaising with district Administration on issues related to relocation of villages etc. After a brief chat with him at his office, I was invited to join him for a night patrol mission the same night. We reached his home at 10.00 PM & he was ready, with no signs of fatigue whatsoever. His driver had already left home, so he decided to take control of the wheels himself. We headed towards the sanctuary area & his ever-vigilant eyes could gaze at even the slightest movement along the road. Reluctant to talk about himself, it took a long time to convince him. He joined Ranthambhore 3.5 years back & has been looking after areas of SMS sanctuary ever since.
SMS Sanctuary unlike Ranthambhore National Park has its own typical set of challenges like human settlements, porous & unprotected boundaries, lesser inroads making terrain inapproachable & ageing forest guards across 35 guard posts. With as many as 8 resident tigers in his span of control, he & his team have quite a job on his hand.
Secured Sanctuary can help tackle Ranthambhore’s issues
Ask him about his top priorities for the sanctuary & he says” Protection of boundaries & corridors between fragments of forests” To restrain the movement of cattle inside, boundaries are being constructed around kundaal, Balas & chidikho areas of the park. The plan of relocation of villages is being pushed aggressively, a site named Girirajpura has already been identified with the help of district administration esp. Sawai Madhopur collector Mr Giriraj Singh Kushwaha, is a keen wild lifer himself. His sincerity & liaison with district administration has put wheels to ever slow relocation project, the need of the hour at Ranthambhore.
Full night patrol ended at Sawai Ganj camps, a guard post where we rested for a few hours before sunrise. Asked him about the biggest challenge he faced recently, he narrates the efforts put in by staff to move T13 & her cubs back from the Chambal ravines to the Sanctuary area, he had spent days together tracking this tigress & ensuring her safe return to the protected area. This tigress had moved away from the park post relocation of the T12-dominant male & father of these cubs to Sariska in order to protect her cubs. While people do talk otherwise about the existence of this tigress & her cubs, his calm posture and smile do suggest otherwise. The guards confirm her sighting every 5-6 days & a picture of her with one cub has also been captured by camera traps recently.
Early morning was spent following the trail of a male tiger on foot, the terrain was out of bounds for vehicles but the young man never gave up. He kept on instructing his staff on actionable before his next visit, something which staff knows would be followed up by him on his next visit soon.
On our way back to Sawai Madhopur we stopped at Bodal, a village due for relocation soon. Two newly constructed houses by people relocated from Mor Dungri village for the greed of second-time compensation did not go unnoticed & he immediately gave instructions to his field staff to report the same. Each relocated household is given monetary compensation of 1.0 mio INR in three instalments of 0.25mio, 0.4mio & 0.35mio respectively.
As we headed back to civilization this ‘Knight of Ranthambhore’ was ready for another day at work which included loads of paperwork, court appearance, video conference & monitoring of night patrol teams.
He knows to sustain the ever-increasing tiger population at Ranthambhore, the sanctuary has to play a very critical part. It can accommodate a few dispersing tigers & also provide a safe corridor for others. Also, a well-managed sanctuary with a healthy tiger population can help in reducing the ever-increasing tourism pressures at Ranthambhore.
This man surely is on a mission & Tigerwalah wishes him all the luck & success.