March 23, 2020
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This ex-forester passes on his zeal for conservation to children

This ex-forester passes on his zeal for conservation to children

HIS ornery demeanour could leave you with an impression that he is rude and dispassionate. But it’s an essential ingredient of K.M. Chinnappa’s aggressive protectionism that’s made him thoroughly unpopular with laissez-faire officials. It’s also helped him preserve the sanctity of the Nagarhole National Park in Karnataka for 20 years. And post-retirement, a mix of his tough talk, inestimable integrity and steely determination have furthered his crusade for conservation of forests and wildlife.

This lone ranger is now striving to raise an army of conservationists — from school and college students, teachers and foresters and villagers— through the Nagarhole Wildlife Conservation Education Project (N AW I C O E D). He launched this mission after going through an ordeal that could pass off as a piece of dramatic fiction. As the Range Forest Officer at Nagarhole, Chinnappa’s zeal to curb poaching and smuggling won him more enemies than friends. Unruly tourists and ‘frolicsome’ officials were prevented from turning the national park into a watering hole; wealthy coffee - growers were forced to detour their loaded trucks between dusk and dawn in order to reduce hit-and-run accidents with wildlife. The upshot: Chinnappa was framed in two murder cases within a span of four years, his house ransacked and part of the park set ablaze when a coffee planter’s body was found with bullet wounds inside the forest in ’92. Both cases came unstuck following an inquiry, but this upright official pressed for voluntary retirement as he could not endure destruction of his home, the national park.

At 58, Chinnappa feels he ought not to remain a solitary voice but be a prime force to speak up on issues of conservation. "It’s a hell of a job to motivate people about wildlife conservation, but I won’t give up," he says. So, N AW I C O E D is his platform to propagate the necessity of protecting nature. This organisation has initiated basic yet informative courses in order to enhance the involvement of youth and people living around game sanctuaries. Pamphlets detailing the destruction wrought by forest fires are handed out, there ’s one for foresters and guards where they are given tips on detecting poachers as well as the use of weapons against these marauders. Besides, slide shows on wildlife are held for about 1,000 school teachers at orientation programmes held by N G Os .

But Chinnappa devotes more time to nature camps for students, a day-long session held in one of the many game sanctuaries in K a rnataka. As they trek across the sanctuary, the children are given the lowdown on various types of forests, plants and wildlife, the links in the food chain, how animals like the lion-tailed macaque, snakes and wild boars work as natural biological control entities to prevent the outbreak of epidemics in forests. Such minute details as the gestation period and average life span of creatures from butterflies to elephants are passed on to the children, as well as tips on how to identify animals from their tracks. All this to help kindle concern for wildlife. The number of students who have participated in such workshops so far: 40,000.

Charishma Sanjay, a class XII student who was at a camp in Nagarhole last week, said: "It’s a totally new experience. Because of the way Chinnappa explains the issue, we can grasp a lot about wildlife conservation. Surely, some of us will take to conservation as a hobby." Chinnappa thus walks tall, figuratively as well as literally (he’s six-foot-four). A certificate of appreciation from the New York Zoological Society, the Bagh Sevak award from Tiger Link, and the Chief Minister’s Gold Medal for conservation of wildlife underscore his calibre .

He’s sure that none of the students who have attended his camps will turn into poachers. "Some children have returned air guns they got as gifts," he says. But his sessions end with a terse message: save the tiger now or future generations will only be able to see a tiger in huli vesha (a folk dance where men dress up as tigers). If you want to join his brigade, write to: K.M. Chinnappa at Nagarhole Wildlife Conservation Education Project, PB No. 50, Srimangala (South Kodagu), Pin 571217, or call 08274-46288.

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