Photo: India Today
Gir Forest has around 523 Asiatic lions – being the only home of these endangering species. Who guards them? These brave female forest guards.
If there is someone we ought to thank so that we can boast about the healthy lion population in Gujarat’s Gir in India, it is there women forest guards team who have worked so hard to make sure that these animals remain safe.
In 2007, Narendra Modi, who was at that time the Chief Minister Of Gujarat, implemented a 33% quota for women forest guards in Gir which gave rise to the only female forest guard team in India. At the moment, seven women have been stationed in Gir’s Sasan division while many others are stationed in other different parts of the forest. They are allowed only 12 leaves annually for the first five years!
Let’s meet some of these brave ‘shernis’ today!
25 year old Kiran Pathija starts her duty of patrolling after the sunrise in forest. Pathija is riding her motorcycle in the jungle to find new pugmarks, animal carcasses and signs of a big cat nearby. Spotting lions twice a week, noting down the observations, births, pregnancies, fresh kills and alerting the rescue team only if the animal is injured – is what her duty involves.
Pathija has a one and a half year old son and is married. She worked in her pregnancy period, riding a motorcycle till her third trimester. She used to keep her newborn baby with her mother and guarded the jungle – coming back every few hours to breastfeed her child.
Rasila Vadher, another fearless woman comes from a small village in Junagadh district. She was the part of the first batch of 43 recruits. Modi had once talked about her back in April 2013. He had said, “More than lions, visitors are amazed at the sight of this gutsy girl who fearlessly walks amid a pride of wild lions.”
There are have been many incidents where women from neighbouring villages, come into the forest to cut prized peak trees. It is Vadher’s job to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Also, she makes sure that the illegal poaching of the lions does not happen. Vadher has been a part of 800 rescues till now and out of which 200 are lions. She has 15 deep scars because a lion once attacked her.
Vadher once told TOI, “I told my husband before getting married that I would be working late hours in the jungle with men. I said, ‘If you have a problem with this, we won’t get married.” Talking about how she loves to nurture the orphaned lion and leopard cubs she said, “My favourite was a lion cub found by the rescue team when she was less than a month old. I named her Ragini.”
Jayshree Patat age 26, and Shabnam Rinbaloch 24 who belong to a tribal Muslim community have gained an empowering and encouraging experience from work because the females in their caste do not even step outside the house. They have played an active role in winning in the co-operation of villagers and the maaldharis (the tribal people who live in Gir).
The 25 year old Manisha Vaghela, hunted down the gang of 9 motorcyclists who were poachers, attempting to hunt down the chinkara antelopes in 2011 – all alone!
Vilas Antana, 24, who is a graduate in Sanskrit from a college in Amreli had no idea about wild animals until she signed up as a guard in Gir. Vilas is content with the job and the independence she has and now she knows all the scientific names of the birds and animals in the forest.
Darshana Kagda, age 24 is the most brave one out of her eight sisters and supports her family on the forest salary.
Aradhana Sahu, is the deputy conservator of the forests at Junagadh, she is ensuring the forest preservation and protection initiatives of the initial recruitments.
Their starting salaries are around ₹7800 per month. After 5 years the foresters make around ₹22,000 and forest guards earn upto ₹16,000.
The female team were the subject of a four part series on Discovery Channel called Lion Queens of India.
They truly are creating history!