Thursday, March 28, 2013

Meet Leelabai, a 59-year-old woman forest guard.


Tête-à-tête with Leelabai, a 59-year-old forest guard in Kanha

“I was walking back to the field camp, when a tiger decided to take the same path as me. It looked me straight in the eye and kept moving in my direction. (...) The tiger came close... and then just trotted off into the bushes,” Leelabai reminisced. “The tiger must have seen the uniform and understood that it’s the malik (owner) out for a walk.”
Leelabai is not a celebrated ‘wildlifer’ or photographer, nor has she published any research papers or been a part of any conglomeration of conservationists. She has spent the last nineteen years of her life living in the forest, armed with nothing but a stick and sheer raw pluck and courage, guarding the forest as part of the forest department. She and WTI's Jose Louies probably would have never crossed paths had the organisation not conducted Crime Prevention Training for the frontline forest staff, an initiative supported by IFAW, at Kanha National Park.
Fondly called amma (mother) by her colleagues, including many officers, Leelabai will be turning 60 this December and it’ll be time for her to retire from the forest department.  Here are some excerpts from Jose's conversation with her-
What made you join the department?  ... I got this job as a forest guard in 1985, after my husband was killed by some poachers. I was left all alone with four children- two boys and two girls. The department offered me the job as a means to make ends meet and I decided to take it up.
What’s your daily routine like? ... We go patrolling, at least around 10 km every day inside the forest. There isn’t an animal that we don’t come across... whether it is a tiger or a gaur, we see them all!

What do you think about the tiger? ... Oh... what do I think? (Laughs) You tell me what I should be thinking about when a majestic animal like the tiger crosses my path! Simplyput, it’s the pride of our forests. After all, you’re sitting in the land of the tiger and people come from all across the world to see a tiger here! So yes, I feel very proud about our tigers.
(...) Have you ever caught a poacher yourself? ... What do you think, kid? That I’ve been in this position for so long but haven’t done anything? As a forest guard, I’ve been part of quite a few seizures and seen them detaining a lot of suspects. Once, in fact, during my patrolling with two casual workers we came across a father-son duo, who were jungle fowl hunters who were setting traps in the forest. As soon as they saw us they tried to run away but we caught them easily. I gave two tight slaps to the kid and asked him why he’s spoiling his life by getting into this murky business and leading a life of crime. We went back, collected all the traps and handed them to the senior officials later. So many incidents like these have happened; it’s hard for me to recall all of them. It’s all a normal part of our life here.
To read the rest of this exchange and see what else this amazing lady had to say, go here.
Leelabai is symbolic of those hundreds of unknown and unheard of ‘glorified’ protectors of our forests and the wildlife in them. It’s not just a job for them but literally living in the middle of the jungles, they risk their lives every day for the cause. It’s not an easy life, patrolling for kilometres on end, living in minimalist field camps to survive, braving the harsh varying Indian weather all year round, battling against all odds to act as the first line of defence for our wildlife.
Here’s hoping that her story and her contributions are now known to the world and helps inspire more people to join forces for to help save wildlife.
Every contribution you make helps us take these small steps toward our vision to secure India's natural heritage. Donate Now


Wildlife Trust of India is a national conservation organisation committed to effective action for the protection of India’s natural heritage. Our principal objectives include managing or preventing wildlife crises and mitigating threats to individual wild animals, their populations and habitats through holistic strategies and practical interventions. View More
Wildlife Trust of India
F-13, Sector-8, NOIDA, Uttar Pradesh-201301
Tel: +91 - 120 - 4143900
Fax: +91 - 120 - 4143933
Email -

Visit our Website and
Facebook Group and Page
Twitter handle - @ wti_org_india
Click here to unsubscribe from the newsletter.

No comments: