He was left with a fractured skull after villagers frightened they would lose their livelihood beat him up, but that did not stop him continuing his work — to save the tiger.
Fateh Singh Rathore will be awarded a Lifetime Service Award at the Sanctuary RBS Wildlife Awards ceremony at the National Centre for the Performing Arts on Thursday, for his work to bring the tiger back to the Ranthambore reserve in Rajasthan.
In the 1970s, he shifted nearly 20 villages out of the park, single-handedly confronted poaching gangs, banned wood cutting and grazing. Gradually the natural resources came back, and so did the tigers.
But in 1981, a group of 50 villagers, poachers, cattle grazers and illegal timber cutters attacked. They beat him up with sticks, leaving him in hospital for three months. As soon as he was discharged, he went straight back to work.
Now the 70-year-old ex-director of the reserve runs NGO Tiger Watch, which catches poachers and educates villagers around the reserve.
“The tiger is at the top of the food chain and is an indicator of the health of the forest and 50,000 people living around the reserve indirectly depend on their livelihoods from her,” said Rathore, who claims there are only 1,200 to 1,400 tigers in India, 30 of which are at the park.
Other people to be honoured include University of Mumbai PhD student Santosh Lalji Yadav (22) from Dahisar, for his work recording plant species in Nashik and at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and identifying endangered ones.
Vishwas Bhau, from Konkan, will get a Wildlife Service Award for protecting marine turtles and vultures. The 47-year-old, who’s day job is as a factory storekeeper, founded NGO Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra in 1992, which protects turtle eggs along the Maharashtra coast from poachers. “In six years, we have released 16,000 hatchlings,” he said.
The annual awards, now in their ninth year, honour people who have dedicated their lives to conserving India’s natural heritage.