Sunday, 4 October 2015 - 7:35am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna | From the print edition
What is it like for a woman forest guard who lives in the jungles far away from her family? Averil Nunes meets the intrepid Raseela Vadher, for whom rescuing lions and leopards is all in a day's work, to find out"This is a 24-hour job, we have no schedule," she laughs when asked to describe a typical day in her life. After all, Raseela Vadher's work day as a rescue forester in Gujarat's Gir National Park could include anything from rescuing a lion in a well or controlling a leopard on the prowl.
It has been seven years of responding to calls to rescue wildlife in and around Gujarat and participating in literally hundreds of rescue operations for the 31-year-old who signed up as a forest guard with Gir in 2007 and worked in the communications division till May 2008 when she took up her current assignment.
There's no saying what tomorrow may bring. Rescues can take as little as 15 minutes if it's just a question of getting an animal out of a well or up to 24 hours if it involves tracking and rescuing - as it did in Mahiya village when Raseela and her team had to rescue four leopard cubs left alone in a 50-metre long cave after their mother had been caught.
"There's a difference between training and a real life situation," says Raseela. "No amount of training can prepare you for a rescue; you have to assess the situation, surroundings and context afresh in each case. You learn from each experience. We say a rescue is successful only when neither the animal nor anyone in the ream is hurt in the process".
Of course, understanding animal behaviour is a large part of that experience. "Lions, leopards, pythons... each animal behaves differently."
Lions, for instance, are social creatures but leopards are not, she says. "They will never hurt you unless provoked- if disturbed when mating, if you move too close to a lioness with cubs or if they can't find food - and even then, they will warn you to back off before they attack, either by waving their tail or growling when you cross what they regard as their boundary. As kings of the jungle they are confident about their place in the scheme of things and don't feel the need to attack. Leopards, on the other hand, are solitary creatures and are rather unpredictable. They don't need a reason to attack."
Once, the team headed out at 3 a.m. after reports that a leopard had injured a girl in Devaliya range and was roaming wild. The wild cat was found sitting in the guest house lobby, she recalls. An attempt to tranquilize him in the open would have meant it would have too many avenues to escape and could harm guests in the process. So, the team sat and watched. Finally, at 6.30 a.m., they managed to corner the animal in a room. Everyone was too scared to bolt him in but Raseela picked up the courage to do so.
The animal had been trapped but the problem of how to tranquillize him remained. Just as they decided to break the glass on the window of the room, the leopard's paw crashed through the glass door. But the rescuers managed to tranquillize him just in time. The same day, the team dealt with a leopard which had injured four people in the Visavadar range and rescued another leopard from a well in the Dedakadi range.
Phew! How's that for a day's work?
Leopards strolling around to eat goats or dogs in the villages around Gir are not uncommon. Luckily, the people of Gir know how to live with animals, says Raseela. "We try to respond to calls within 15 minutes and people are confident. That is a great help."
There's plenty to do even when there's no emergency. On days such as those, she reaches the the rescue headquarters around 8 a.m. and tends to the various jobs -- treating sick/injured animals, feeding baby animals, arranging for provisions and living quarters for new arrivals that are being brought in, ensuring that all animal quarters are well maintained, micro-chipping lions and leopards and, of course, paperwork. Of these, treating injured animals and feeding cubs rank high on Raseela's list of favourite tasks.
Raseela lives in the park and manages to visit her home in Bhanduri, about 42 kilometres away, just once a month or maybe not even that. But the distance from her family doesn't bother her too much. Her husband though works in the village of Verawal about 60 kilometres away and manages to visit every alternate day. "The animals are my family," says the woman who has been married for a little over a year.
What's the best part about her job? "I get paid to spend time with nature and animals," she answers happily. She is hoping that her life – glimpses of which will be seen in Discovery Channel's forthcoming Lion Queens of India series – will convince more girls to join the forest guards department. "Girls can do anything," she insists. "We are not meant to sit at home and make rotis."