Saving the Forest, One Woman at a time
At a time when dog lovers are accusing Kerala of culling or at least threatening to cull the state’s stray dogs, it’s nice to know that for some of Kerala’s inhabitants, looking after the environment takes precedence even over their own welfare.
Since 2002 a group of women living in villages on the edges of the Periyar Tiger reserve have been carrying out daytime patrols to help protect the local wildlife. The local people had noticed that while the forest rangers patrolled the forest at night, there was nobody keeping an eye on it during the day. The number of women involved has varied over the years, currently there are 54 women actively engaged but the have been as many as 100 involved in the group. The most remarkable fact is that none of the women have asked for or even accepted remuneration for their work. Whenever they have been offered they have refused.
It is not easy for the women and many live in a precarious financial situation as patrolling the forest means that they lose 2 to 3 days of wages per month and many tribal women have found it impossible to make ends meet. The women admit that when they first started, many locals scoffed at the idea and thought it would soon come to an end. 13 years later nobody is laughing any more.
The women have divided themselves into different groups so that on average each woman will patrol twice a month and each patrol lasts from 10 in the morning until five in the evening. The women admit that the experience can be fraught at times as they encounter wild elephants and they admit that they had even sensed the presence of wild leopards although they have not seen them. They know the jungle like the back of their hand and they notice any small changes immediately. They also take on the task of picking up rubbish and plastics that have been left by visitors or tourists. Their most important role is that their constant presence exit difficult for poachers or smugglers to move around during the daytime as tree poachers tend to investigate during the day and then arrived to poach night..
Although the raise some scepticism about them, probably because they are women, they themselves have a clear understanding of why they are doing this, “for the last 13 years we have an appreciable job being women. We risk our lives because because we want our children and grandchildren to see the rich forests”one said.
See our previous coverage from 2008