The real knights of the forest

Debarati Palit Singh
Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Documentary filmmaker and wildlife conservationist Krishnendu Bose talks about his latest series Heroes of the Wild Frontiers on Animal Planet and the important role of forest guards

There’s a lot of noise about the efforts been made by government and social groups to conserve wildlife. But those working at ground level aren’t getting the much needed attention. For example, no one really talks about the efforts been made by forest guards who are working tirelessly to save wild animals from poachers, and protect the villages and villagers who live in and around wildlife sanctuaries.   

Noted environmental and wildlife documentary filmmaker Krishnendu Bose has written, directed and narrated a new series titled Heroes of the Wild Frontiers. The six-part series will premiere on Animal Planet on September 16 at 9 pm. 

The award-winning filmmaker says,  “I have been working in wildlife conservation for the last 25 years and have been looking at the lives of those who are involved in it, specially forest guards. I have seen them confronted by poachers and wild animals. I was utterly impressed with them all my life and it was my dream to be able to tell their stories, the way I have seen. Also, many of these guys are so learned and knowledgeable. Many years back, I had interacted with a forest guard, Nasim, who wasn’t highly qualified but knew the names of 300 birds.” 

Despite their contribution towards safeguarding wildlife, they never get acknowledged. “PM Narendra Modi has been talking about saving the tigers but we don’t know the people who are saving them. When media writes about the good work wildlife sanctuaries are doing, they either interview the ministers or forest officers but not those working at ground level and at the front line,” says Bose. 

Many of these sanctuaries are volatile places because there are many people, villages and communities around them. “There are clashes and many a time, forest guards get injured in the process. Maybe the series will help in making people realise the task they undertake,” says the founder of Earthcare Films, which creates films on wildlife conservation and environmental justice.  

Passion for their work

The series has been shot in some of India’s most beautiful National Parks and reserves including Kaziranga, Andaman, Sundarbans, Hemis, North Bengal and Pakke. For the last one year, Bose has been intensely working on the project. “While staying and interacting, I realised one thing, ‘Why do they do what they do? Their salaries are very minimal, living conditions aren’t great too — they are deep inside the jungle which is very dangerous. The question always fascinated me, so I went back and asked my heroes the same questions,” says Bose, adding,  “Everyone was like, ‘You can’t take us out of here because this is our home and life, we want to protect these animals. It’s pure passion on their part and love for what they do. They are such an organic part of the forest. The conversations with the guards happened off camera and some of the stories brought tears to my eyes.”

Sharing a few such stories, Bose says, “In North Bengal, elephants come out of the forest and the job of ‘Flying Squads’, comprising a group of forest guards, is to be the wall between elephants and villagers. These elephants can destroy the crops and people can get angry and hurt these animals. All this happens in the night.”

In Hemis National Park, Ladakh, one of the forest guards had a pulmonary artery rupture and was in hospital for three months. “He had climbed up to a height of 20,000 ft to monitor snow leopards,” he says.  

Not an easy project 

Bose has won several awards for his documentaries. Tiger — The Death Chronicles won the conservation award at the International Wildlife Festival in Montana, USA. The Latent City was showcased in the Indian Panorama in 2009 and won the Grand Prix at Document Art film Festival in Romania. At the Casselle Film Festival, Italy, in 2014, Bose won the Best Director Award for his film Missing on women and climate change. The Tiger Who Crossed the Line was adjudged the Best Environmental Film (including Agricultural Film) at the 64th National Film Awards. 

For his latest project Heroes of the Wild Frontiers, Bose raised funds, but that wasn’t the only challenge. “There were many others. Our resources were limited and we had to make 30 minute series. It was not easy to shoot a wildlife project because sometimes the guards would have to rush to some spot because of some emergency and be constantly on the guard. We also had to shoot at one particular park twice. For example, we did two schedules in Ladakh,” he says adding, “Also, the crew wasn’t geared up for the conditions, so we had to do a short training with them.” 

A long way to go

There is a constant endeavour to safeguard wildlife in the country. But is enough being done? “We get a lot of negative news about wildlife conservation and I, myself have done some hard hitting films. We need to understand a couple of things. The requisition of wildlife conservation is very deep and strong in our country and it’s not just because of the government but the people. Wildlife is part of our tradition and spirituality so there is a lot of tolerance among the people.” 

In addition to that, government has to also balance between development and environment because the two are always at loggerheads. “Today, when several species have become endangered and extinct, we have to protect wildlife. India is home to 80 per cent of rhinos, 70 per cent of tigers and 50 per cent of elephants of the world. With so much pressure on development, I think what we have done is correct. Having said that, everything good isn’t always right because there has been continuous pressure on environment for development. Little compromises have been made here and there, which are also damaging.”

Inside the forests, it’s been reasonably good with laws becoming more strict but outside it’s still vulnerable. “I feel the outside is an important part of wildlife because a part of them lives outside the forest. We have to strengthen it and both the government and people have a role to play,” concludes Bose. 

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