The planet as on date needs more and more committed forest field staff to protect the fast depleting biodiversity-rich areas .An acclaimed woman Forst Ranger from Gujarat Heena Patel feels that women are well capable of protecting the biodiversity because of their ability to strike an instant chord with the community and understanding of nature.
Heena Patel is one of three women warriors in the profession of forest and biodiversity protection who has been conferred the coveted ‘Van Durga’ in the on-going Asian Ranger Forum (ARF) that is underway here since December 5.
“Capability is not defined by gender. It’s about the person’s determination. It’s been 10 years I’m working as a Range Forest Officer. It is a very exciting work dealing with live creatures,” she said during a conversation with Aaranyak on the sidelines on the global event.
Indeed, stereotypical mindset was a challenge for her initially, but steely determination helped her to overcome those obstacles. “Rescue operation recognises no gender. Working as Range Forest Officer during field work, I received strength and support from the women. These women come to me and ask about my work then they bring their daughters and ask me to inspire them to be self-dependent and determined. Addressing such things gives me a sense of satisfaction,” she said rooting for more opportunities for women in the field.
Her father who is a farmer in Gujarat, has been her primes source of inspiration. “ I’ve grown up watching Asiatic Lion in our cropland. My parents are the pillars of my strength and they have always inspired me to do something for the nation,” she said.
Heena is now working in Social Forestry at Navasari, Gujarat. Major part of her work constitutes rescue of wildlife like stray Indian Leopards, rock python and releasing them in the wild.
“Navasari is a small congested city with deciduous trees. During cyclone and heavy rains there are disaster situation like falling of trees, waterlogging. Getting the roads or area cleared of fallen trees is a major task. I’m looking into 144 villages whose Sarpanch reports to me in case of rescue requirement. People of Navasari have pet animals, birds, turtles etc., sometimes these live creatures fall under Scheduled species category. The people in general and youth, students in particular have been made aware of Scheduled species, wildlife conservation, human-wildlife conflict (human – leopard) through various awareness programmes like Prakruti Shibir (camp), Wildlife Shibir programmes. After the awareness drive, many local people have hander over their pets which come under Schedule species and then we have released them in the wild,” said Heena elaborating on challenges of her work.
Navasari is a wetland area and serves as little paradise for avifauna and migratory birds. According to her, the awareness shibirs have helped bring down poaching of avifauna. Sugarcane grows well in Navasari and these sugarcane fields are very good places for leopards to hide and take shelter.
“We have healthy leopard population but the problem is they prey upon livestock of villagers. So, we arrange for awareness programmes to sensitise villagers on how to coexist with leopards and deal with it cautiously.
“It has been a practice to assign male forest guards for rescue and release of leopards. I’ve tried to change it and assign female forest guards as well during the release of leopards in the wild,” Heena said reflecting her resolve to promote women in protection of forest and wildlife.