K M Chinnappa
Chinnappa’s beloved Nagarahole National Park. In 1993 after voluntarily retiring from Karnataka forest department, he started Nagarahole Wildlife Conservation Education project reaching out to the local students, youth and the public. His efforts are supported by New York based Wildlife Conservation Society and Global Tiger Patrol Fund of London.
In 1967, Chinnappa joined the Nagarahole National Park as a forester. The park was in ruins. Hunting had taken its toll. There were hardly any deer left, forget tigers and other big game. To cultivate rice, villagers had encroached on the swamps – the beloved play-ground of the elephants. Tribesmen lived in clusters deep within the park to collect forest produce, ranging from honey to berries. Livestock herders grazed their cattle on the park’s grasslands. Hunters preyed on animals and birds. Poachers hunted tigers for their skin; elephants for their tusks.
Timber logging was a thriving mafia business. Sandalwood smugglers roamed with abandon. The destroyers of Nagarahole’s environment used a range of weapons – hunters shotguns, tribesmen used snares and livestock herders used poison. Wild life protection laws were weak and the forest department concentrated on logging, misguidedly uprooting the diversity of natural vegetation to replace them with the monoculture of teak.
Born in 1941 in Kumtur village near Nagarhole to a soldier who fought in the First World War, Chinnappa spent his youth roaming the forests of his ancestral land, listening to birds, watching the cavalcade of animals in their habitat, absorbing the every day miracles of the rich eco-system. An enduring love for nature was thus born in him. Like his father, he too would become a mustachioed soldier. But with a difference. He would become a gun-toting, frontline warrior of the forests, dedicated to protecting wild life. Says he simply: “Wildlife is the purpose of my life.’
In less than a quarter of a century,under Chinnappa's watch, Nagarhole revived, expanding from a 250 sq km part to 640 sq kms. The poachers retreated, the encroachers gone and the hunters virtually extinct, Nagarhole was restored to its rightful inhabitants – tigers, panthers, leopards, sloth bears, jackals, wild boars, porcupines, hares, langur and varieties of deer. In the bad old days, tigers had to roam 200 sq kms before they could find prey. Now they can find it within 12 sq kms. The elephants are back where they belong: in the lush swamps and bamboo groves. The trick? Explains Chinnappa: “All you have to do is to stop human interference. Just leave the forests alone and they will regenerate themselves”.
Chinnappa with wildlife biologist Ullhas Karanth in Nagarahole National Park, this photograph is from mid 80s.