Gir (Gujarat): A total of 490 frontline Forest Department staff protecting the Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) in Gir were trained through this month to effectively control poaching and prosecute wildlife offenders. Equipment to facilitate anti-poaching patrolling was also distributed. The training was organised by the Gujarat Forest Department in association with the Van Rakshak Project (VRP) of Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) supported by the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF).
“The participants included rangers and their subordinates from all the ranges in Greater Gir – a concept proposed by the Government of Gujarat to bring the entire distribution range of the Asiatic lion under one administration for effective conservation. The trainees were briefed about the Wildlife Protection Act, preparation of patrolling plans and creation of a crime map to identify sensitive areas for effective control of illegal activties,” said Dr Rakesh Kumar Singh, Coordinator, WTI and the resourceperson for the training.
The training began on December 9 in Dedekadi range of Gir West Wildlife Division, and continued till December 25 covering all the ranges of Greater Gir. Following the training, anti-poaching field kits were provided to 228 meritorious performers. The training received favourable reviews from the participants.
“In our years of service, we have attended a number of such trainings. However, this was the first time that we got to understand the nittygritties of wildlife law. We understood how to read between the lines and interpret things as required to effectively protect wildlife,” said MM Muni, Range Officer, Mahua Range, Gir.
Similar view was expressed by Rajendra Khodabhai Dethadia, Forester, Junagadh Division who has been in the service for 25 years now. “The training was very good and the teaching method of Dr Singh was very effective. We got to learn a lot of new and valuable things which we were not aware of earlier. I have only three years of service left now and I regret this training was not conducted much earlier. However, this has benefited the new recruits, and personally, I think my work has received a boost. Such trainings should be conducted more often, perhaps twice a year, preferably in the field so that the staff get practical experience along with the theory,” he said.
KS Randhawa, DFO, Bhavnagar, who attended the entire training session, said, “This was indeed a very good and useful training for our staff. They got to learn the ways to effectively prosecute wildlife offenders and learnt about their own powers, among a lot of other things which they will be able to use in their daily work. Still, I think it could have been better if the training was held for a longer duration.”
WTI’s Van Rakshak Project trains and equips Forest Department staff deployed in and around critical habitats of flagship species like the tiger, elephants, rhinos, bears among others to ensure effective protection to India’s natural heritage. Since its initiation in 2000, the project has trained more than 8000 frontline staff members in more than 100 protected areas across 16 Indian states.
Van Rakshak Project also provides insurance cover to more than 17000 frontline staff across India, ensuring relief to their families in case of mishaps while on duty. More than 50 families have availed of this insurance till date.
“This is the first VRP training in Gir. We have been working for this for a long time. It finally came through and we are grateful for the contribution of all who helped us including Kapil Paramjit Singh Bhatia, Manisha Rajput and Rajen Yadav among others,” added Dr Singh.
With just a single population of about 350 individuals left in the wild, the Asiatic lion – endemic to Gir – is listed as an endangered species in the IUCN Red List of threatened species. It is also listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act.