If commitment had a face

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If commitment had a face

Tuesday, 10 September 2019 | Chahak Mittal

If commitment had a face

...it would be filmmaker Krishnendu Bose’s, who has crossed unimaginable lengths while shooting for his forthcoming documentary series, Heroes of the Wild Frontiers. He tells Chahak Mittal that the ever-present conflict between modern-day development and environment has now been interrupted by humans, who are making efforts to fight for the cause too

A few people are shooting at a Tiger Reserve, in a gorge, 40 to 50-metres deep, with a green and sky-blue landscape surrounding the area. A baby elephant slips off the edge and falls down the cliff. Since it’s a tropical forest, the elephant is lucky enough to not have landed on the rocks but some bushes. The baby elephant is terrified and constantly trying to make efforts to get out of its near-deadly situation. Forest guards gather around to put it back to its designated area when suddenly, the mother elephant arrives. It’s standing at the top of the hill from where the baby elephant had fallen down. It is screaming and terrified too. Everyone is worried that what if it rushes and in the process falls down in a bid to rescue her baby? They would all be killed.

Filmmaker Krishnendu Bose tells us about this situation that he had encountered at the Pakke Tiger Reserve while he was shooting for his forthcoming documentary series, Heroes of the Wild Frontiers. It was one of the most frightening yet thrilling and memorable moments of his life. “A rare sight I will never forget.”

Through the series, he brings stories of forest guards and management teams, which go through several difficult and inhospitable terrains, scorching sun and raging fires. Shot in some of India’s major National Parks and Reserves like Kaziranga, Andaman, Sundarbans, Hemis, North Bengal and Pakke, Bose takes viewers on a fascinating journey through the wild India. From unusual wild landscapes from the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park in the Andamans to the diversity among the corals and the challenges they face due to climate change, the documentary series will make the viewers witness the multi-layered work that the forest guards here do underwater and above. It shows how they ensure that the curtains on the various endangered species are not brought down. They are the first ones which defense against wildlife poaching, forest fires, timber and ivory smuggling, and various other activities that degrade species and their habitats. They have the greatest stories of conservation. However, not one of them are ever talked about or heard. The episodes pay a tribute to these unsung heroes of the wild.

After being a part of immense research around wildlife protection in India and creating a number of documentaries like Harvesting Hunger, The Tiger Who Crossed the Line, The Forgotten Tigers, and many more, Bose says that it’s after 25 years of research work and filmmaking, that he felt that forest guards are no less than the warriors on the borders. “I have encountered many forest guards and conservationists, whose gut and hard work have inspired me. I have seen them put in their everything to work for the cause. They have been a part of many life-threatening situations. And I have been near such experiences for a long time now. So I thought to make a film that could show their stories. Their courage is absolutely unknown to the world. Nobody knows that it actually takes real heroes to keep that one tiger alive or the corals from getting decayed. So this series will tell how these people stand at the edge for the flora and fauna,” says he.

Well, wildlife filmmaking is never easy to break into. It’s replete with challenges — unprecedented and countless. However, the experiences one takes home are unparalleled too. While one would question, ‘Tumne kya dekha?’ (What did you see?) Bose would rather exclaim, ‘Ask, kya kya nahi dekha!’ He narrates how while shooting, they scheduled a visit to the Andamans deliberately in January, which is the expected time for leatherback turtles to appear for mass nesting. “We were at the Marine National Park. We went to the beach at various intervals from 2 pm to 2 am. We waited at night for some time. And finally, we saw that rare sight of leatherback turtles who had come for nesting in a pitch-dark background as it was 2 ‘o’ clock in the night. We already had our cameras ready and it was an absolutely fantastic sight. I have been very lucky that way that I could see that beautiful phenomenon with bare eyes,” says Bose.

Well, another such was spotting the Snow Leopard at Hemis National Park in Ladakh. He says, “Our photographer, Pankaj Raina was constantly able to track the animals and was able to see the real-time data of the movements of the Snow Leopard through a technological tool. There was one very close by our team and we could track it and shoot it too. It was amazing.”

So what are these advanced technologies? A major revolution that has come about in wildlife conservation and research today is due to the changing technology. “Today, a small chip can be embedded inside an animal, be it anything, a tiger or a leopard, through which its actions and movements could be constantly tracked from anywhere in the world through your phone. You can actually see where the tiger is going. And there is some really fantastic data which is coming. Forest scientist Bilal Habib at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), once told me about a particular tiger which they were following. And he showed me some real-time data about when the tiger actually breaks out of the forest and goes to a village. They could track how he crossed the roads and the highway, which could have been a conflict zone for it. I was blown by that technology and how it works. The information that they get can actually be a proof and be shown to the government about how these species cross their particular zones to reach human habitats. Otherwise, it’s quite difficult to convince to the government,” says he.

So how does the tracking of these animal movements actually help in the conservation? It’s actually a way to get to know about their schedules. “Everything — the cub’s time to be fed by the mother, their time to leave their dens to get food, about the interaction between the tiger with its other family members, and much more. There is a complete evidence of where does the tiger go when it steps out of its home. We it goes to a certain place. This is even good for wildlife tourism where the guards could tell the tourists to not go to a place at a particular time since it could be a place of visit for a tiger at that hour. We actually have shown this bit in our episode of Ladakh, which talks about how technology is helping the forest management teams in various ways.”

Infrastructural development and environment never go hand in hand. Bose says that developing countries like India are always under a huge pressure and in constant conflict with the environment. “In 2010 in Delhi, when the Commonwealth Games were about to happen, there was immense construction and infrastructure-building going on as stadiums and flyovers were being built. At the time, around 200,000 trees were cut in the capital itself and there’s no record for that. There weren’t much protests against that too.”

However, talking about how this scenario has changed, he points at the World Trade Centre building, which was planned to be constructed in Nauroji Nagar in New Delhi in 2018. He says, “There were around 14,000 trees which were supposed to be cut. The entire nearby community started protesting against it and went to the court and got a stay order. It’s been a year now that the construction stopped and no deforestation activity has taken place. The point here is that in a country like India, the conflict between environment and development will always be there however, now with more awareness, the conflict is building up in the people as well. The consciousness is rising. Even the law has become stronger and stricter with years.”

In another instance — 20 years ago, he was shooting in Gujarat, when a sanctuary was denotified. He informs that since nobody even had the information, no one protested against it. “However, had it happened today, there would have been a huge human cry. There would have been multiple protests. So it is no longer that easy to just order some deforesting activity in an area like that,” says he and adds that surprisingly, due to the growing awareness, we still have 40 per cent of landmark in these wildlife-protected areas, 50 per cent of tiger population and elephants in their habitats, “which is huge.” Contrastingly, if we go down to other parts of Asia, “they have actually cleared all their lands and killed the animals. India still has a strong hold on biodiversity. However, of course, that doesn’t mean we go down to wasting natural resources or deplete our forests,” he chuckles.

It’s rightly said, ‘Maintaining healthy forests takes much more than planting trees.’ And Bose explains why. Quite interestingly, planting trees is a complete “hogwash.” He says, “Especially, when politicians say that we are working to plant more trees. Trees are a community of life. You can’t just clear a thousand trees somewhere else and plant a few for compensation at some other place. A tree lives for ages. How many people actually monitor plants? If some 20,000 saplings are planted somewhere, who will look after them from the next day? You plant and leave. They need time and years to stay and grow. You certainly can’t replace a community of life (trees) by planting a forest of saplings.”

(The film will premiere on September 16 at 9 pm on Animal Planet.)

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