Nagaland has been witnessing a rapid positive transformation in the wildlife conservation sector over the past decade. The change is attributed to the significant role played by the frontline staff of the Forest Department. These staff members are vulnerable to forest offenders, extremists, weather, terrain, remoteness, and wild animals. The Forest Department recognizes their hard work at various forums time and again. Now, it was envisaged to acknowledge the contribution by such staff in the recent past to safeguard the wildlife of Nagaland by institutionalizing an annual reward to continually motivate everyone involved.
The Department invited nominations from frontline staff (all permanent and temporary employees of this department from the rank of Range Forest Officer and below) by formulating guidelines for exemplary work in wildlife conservation in Nagaland. Awards include a cash prize of Rs. 10,000/-, a memento, and a citation in each of the three categories: Range Forest Officer (RFO) Level, Forester (FR) Level, and Forest Guard (FG) and Equivalent Level.
There were a total of 18 nominations received: RFO Level (3), FR Level (8), and FG and Equivalent Level (7). “It was a very difficult task to finalize the winners of the awards as all the nominations received were equally competent,” said the Chief Wildlife Warden of Nagaland, Shri Vedpal Singh IFS. After great deliberation, Shri Y Limthure Yimchunger, Forest Guard, Kiphire Range, Kiphire Forest Division, and Shri Bhola, Animal Keeper, Nagaland Zoological Park, Rangapahar were jointly declared winners, along with Shri Hukai H Zhimo, Forester I, Head of Wildlife Crime Control Unit, Dimapur Wildlife Division, and Shri Lansothung Lotha, Range Forest Officer, Doyang Beat, Wokha Forest Division.
Limthure is the co-founder of the Bhutan Glory Eco Club at Fakim Village, Nagaland. The club was named after a very rare butterfly discovered in Fakim, Nagaland by him and his team. The club was founded with the mission “Shoot but with a camera, not a gun” to engage youngsters in conservation. To reduce reliance on jhum cultivation and the use of adjoining forest resources, the eco club organized a high-value fruit trees plantation drive on community land, aiming for sustainable horticulture and animal husbandry. Due to efforts from frontline staff like him, poachers’ trails into forests in the Fakim area have vanished and are now covered by vegetation. He has co-authored numerous papers, including those on the discovery of the Bhutan Glory butterfly, Rhododendron elliottii, Rodgersia asculifolia, and Butterflies and Birds of Fakim. He has extensive experience in bird call count surveys, camera trapping, and photo and video documentation.
Hardworking Bhola has been diligently serving in Nagaland’s only zoo as an animal keeper for more than a decade. Over the years, he has become one of the best keepers in the zoo, and due to his diligent care, wild animals hardly feel the stress of his presence. He has significantly contributed to the challenging task of animal breeding in the zoo.
Hukai is a terror to wildlife offenders, reminiscent of the dashing CBI agents in Bollywood movies. As the head of his Wildlife Crime Control Unit, comprised of excellent staff, he has consistently played a heroic role in addressing Human-Animal Conflicts and curbing Wildlife Crimes in the state. Contrary to perceptions about wildlife enforcement in the state, wildlife offences, such as elephant / hornbill poaching and ivory seizures, are registered due to the courage of frontline staff like Hukai and his team. Hukai’s other notable duties include animal rescue operations, detecting wildlife offence cases on social media, intelligence gathering, market and highway patrolling, searches and seizures, Amur falcon protection, and being first responders in the field during Human-elephant conflicts, including the tranquilization of elephants in musth for public safety.
Lansothung is a man of scientific temper and a significant intellectual asset to the department. The “Tokhü Emong Bird Count,” the first-ever bird documentation event covering the entire state, was recently held in Peren and inaugurated by Hon’ble Union Forest Minister, Shri Bhupender Yadav. He was instrumental in the first-ever birding challenge in Nagaland – the Nagaland Christmas Birding Challenge (NCBC) powered by eBird India. He also launched the Interactive Bird Poster for Nagaland as an educational tool for both students and adults, in collaboration with Early Bird India. He has received a certificate of appreciation for submitting 607 bird checklists on the globally renowned eBird application.
In 2022, Lansothung selflessly assisted the wildlife wing in Amur falcon duties, beyond his geographical jurisdiction. He has also represented the Department in technical presentations on numerous occasions, both nationally and internationally, on platforms like the International Galliformes in Indonesia, the Annual Meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation in Coimbatore, the International Hornbill Conference in Thailand, online presentations for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the Yale School of Environment, NASA’s ARSNET, and the National Symposium on Avian Biology in Bihar, among others.
The awards will be ceremoniously distributed on 4th October 2023 at the Nagaland Zoological Park, Rangapahar, by the honourable Minister of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, Shri. C. L. John, in the presence of Shri Vedpal Singh IFS, Chief Wildlife Warden, and Shri Y Kikheto Sema IAS, Commissioner and Secretary.
Kamdi Hemant Bhaskar, IFS
Conservator of Forests,
Department of Environment, Forest and Climate Change,