2 Punjab cadre IFS officers featured in book hailing women forest officers

Two Punjab cadre IFS officers — M Geethanjali (43) and Kalpana K (32), both natives of Tamil Nadu — have been featured in the book for their exceptional work in conservation of blackbucks at Punjab's Abohar open wildlife sanctuary.

Two Punjab cadre Indian Forest Service (IFS) officers have featured in the book ‘The Green Queens of India- Nation’s Pride’, a one-of-its-kind compilation of the extraordinary works done by women forest officers in conserving the forest and wildlife, for their extensive campaign and works in preserving the protected animal blackbuck, also the State Bird of Punjab.

The e-book dedicated to the women forest officers of the country has been published by the Indian Forest Service Association- Central Unit, New Delhi, and was released by Union Minister of Environment, Forest & Climate Change Prakash Javadekar on International Women’s Day (March 8).

Two Punjab cadre IFS officers — M Geethanjali (43) and Kalpana K (32), both natives of Tamil Nadu — have been featured in the book for their exceptional work in conservation of blackbucks at Punjab’s Abohar open wildlife sanctuary.

A one-of-its-kind in the country, the open wildlife sanctuary at Abohar in Fazilka district is on the private land owned by locals.

The local Bishnoi community helps in conserving blackbucks, a protected animal under the Schedule-I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act and also the State Bird of Punjab.

An excerpt from the book, crediting both the women forest officers under the head ‘Protected Area Management’, reads, “M. Geethanjali, 2001 Batch Punjab along with Kalpana K, 2014 Punjab, took efforts to revive Abohar Wildlife Sanctuary, home to a small population of blackbuck and other wild animals. Although the sanctuary was spread across 18650 ha, the land ownership rested with private land in 13 villages. Earlier, there was only minimum intervention by the department as the local Bishnoi community was tolerant towards the wild animals in their vicinity. Quite recently, due to the loss of tibbas (community grazing lands) to agriculture, the sanctuary faced new challenges of illegal fencing and retaliatory killing. Geethanjali and her team took up massive awareness campaigns and in the sanctuary and the 4 community reserves and convinced the people to remove the cortina (cobra wire) from their fields which were causing serious injury to the birds and animals. Such sustained efforts led to the ban of cobra wire eventually….”

Speaking to The Indian Express over the phone from Finland where she is now pursuing higher studies, IFS officer M Geethanjali said that she was posted as the Conservator Wildlife (Parks and Protected Areas) for Ferozepur circle in 2018-19 when she along with Kalpana K, who was then posted as divisional forest officer (Ferozepur division), had started campaign to convince locals to remove cobra fencing from their lands as it was causing fatalities and injuries to the animals, including blackbucks, in the sanctuary.

She said, “No doubt that local Bishnoi community has been protecting the blackbuck population in Abohar sanctuary for years but a new set of challenges came with growing aspirations of locals to have more land under cultivation. They want to protect blackbucks but also want more crops, harvest and development which led to some obstacles in conservation of blackbucks and other animals in the open sanctuary. Not only stray dogs started attacking blackbucks but also tibbas (grazing lands) in the area have reduced leading to habitat loss for them. Earlier farmers used to have mud walls on their lands to protect crops from dogs, stray cattle etc. Mud walls never caused any harm to blackbucks as they would easily jump over and cross them. However, later land owners started installing deadly cobra wires which are too blunt with hooks attached to them. It started leading to fatalities and a number of blackbucks and other animals died after getting injured due to cobra wires. We started holding meetings with locals, urging them to remove cobra wires as it was harming the animals, and eventually the orders banning the sale and use of cobra wires were also reissued by the deputy commissioner Fazilka….”

A one-of-its-kind ‘Rescue Centre Jangli Jeev Complex’, a small centre for treating the injured animals, was also opened in Abohar during the tenure of these two women forest officers.

Abohar sanctuary is home to herds of the indigenous antelopes — blackbucks — with twisted horns, and they roam freely across the villages where the open sanctuary is spread on private land.

IFS officer Kalpana K, who was then posted as the divisional forest officer (DFO), Ferozepur division, said, “When I took charge of the division, it came to my notice that the problem of cobra wire has been there for long. Though the Deputy Commissioner had banned the use of the wire, people refused to remove them. The Wildlife Range staff largely succeeded in their efforts by moving from village to village and convinced the farmers who were using cobra wire, to remove them. Awareness camps were held and eventually most of the villagers removed the cobra wires. They installed cobra wires to keep stray cattle and dogs away from their farms but it had started killing blackbucks and other animals too.”

She added: “The local community along with range officer treated injured animals themselves with the help of local vets. Keeping this in view, we opened a small rescue centre for injured animals in 2019 within the range complex to meet the emergency needs and for the immediate treatment of injured animals. It helped in better rescue, rehabilitation and transport of injured animals. Meeting locals and other stakeholders to know their view was the key. With the limited resources and staff in the range, an effort was made for the first time to collect evidence of blackbuck sightings in areas outside the sanctuary and community reserve. The field staff was sent to villages outside the sanctuary and community reserve and were made to collect direct and indirect evidence from the villages to track blackbuck movement. Staff were also made to collect evidence of blackbuck sightings in nearby districts of Rajasthan like Ganganagar and Hanumangarh bordering the sanctuary to study trend of movement, migration, seasonal variations in migration, breeding pattern etc.”

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