Assam’s Jadav Payeng was a cowherd before something strange happened that changed his life completely. It was a rough day in 1979, when he spotted a knot of snakes washed ashore on the sandbar by floods. A day later, the reptiles died due to heat and lack of tree cover. Perturbed by this, a 16-year-old Peyeng took up the task of planting bamboo samplings.

Several years later, the place stands transformed as a sprawling forest on the 550-hectare sandbar in the middle of the Brahmaputra. Jadav Payeng, who lives on this Brahmaputra sandbar called Ouna Sapori, is one of the awardees of the Sanctuary Wildlife Awards 2012.

Due to his concerted efforts such as introducing ant species, cow dung as manure – he has been able to reforest his island, which is now home to tigers and rhinos! Not satisfied with greening just his own tiny ark, he exhorts villagers to do the same on part of their own lands.

“Nature and God are one and the same,” says Jadav.

Like Jadav, there were others from different parts of India who were selected for the Sanctuary Wildlife Awards for their efforts in wildlife conservation.

The awards were constituted to recognise the best in the field of wildlife conservation and to shine a spotlight on the unsung heroes who are defending the wildernesses and thus the food and water security of the Indian subcontinent. The awardees are nominated by Sanctuary Asia readers and supporters from across the country.

A fearless woman who has gone undercover to take on poachers, a boy who helped a tiger landscape come to life and forest officers who survived murderous attacks to protect the tiger – these are some of the inspiring people being honoured at the awards.

Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia, said, “The economic edifice sits on bedrock of ecology. There was a time when wildlife and nature conservation was considered an esoteric involvement of a handful of well-meaning people. Not any longer. In an era of climate change, it is now a survival strategy to adapt to and mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. Protecting biodiversity is not an option, it’s a life-saving imperative.”

The Lifetime Service Award was presented to Belinda Wright, Founder of the Wildlife Protection Society of India. A dyed-in-the-wool wildlifer, she is a renowned tiger conservationist and wildlife campaigner, who has pioneered investigations into the illegal wildlife trade in India, Nepal, Bhutan and China.

This year, the Best Tiger State Award was given to Maharashtra, recognising the improvement in tiger protection in the State. “We expect the number of tigers in Maharashtra to go up to over 200 from 169. The latest census report will give the exact numbers,” said Pravin Pardesi, Forest Secretary, Maharashtra.

The Wildlife Service Awards were given to Srinivasa Reddy, Field Director of Maharashtra’s Pench Tiger Reserve; Richard D’souza, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Goa; N. Badusha of Wynad Prakruthi Samrakshana Samithi; P. Dhanesh Kumar, Divisional Forest Officer, South Wynad Forest Division; and Assam’s Jadav Payeng.

Writer Cara Tejpal, wildlife activist Roheet Karoo, and cartoonist and illustrator Rohan Chakravarty were presented the Young Naturalist Awards for their contribution to wildlife conservation.

A photography contest was also held, which saw entries from nature-lovers from across the nation capturing the various issues of wildlife conservation such as man-animal conflict and habitat destruction.

(This article was published on November 30, 2012)
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