• Success Story
Periyar Protocol : Poachers to Protectors
By Padma Mahanti, Deputy Director - Periyar Tiger Reserve
Shivaraman is more than happy receiving the guests at the office of Bullock cart discoveries. While the guests mount on to the elevated cart drawn by tastefully decorated bullocks, he takes extra care that they face the least hassles.

The bullock cart would take the guests to farmlands, vine orchards, jasmine gardens, a typical Tamil temple, coconut groves and the meandering riverside trails through the sleepy village of Gudalur where the setting is similar to that of R K Naryanan's 'Malgudi Days'.

Shivaraman is a member of Vidiyal Vana Padhukappu Sangam, now known as Vidiyal EDC, after being conferred with the status of an Eco Developmnmnt Committee by the Kerala Forest Department in November, 2006.

For more than three years the Vidyal Sangam members have been engaged in gathering information about the notorious criminals across the state. Having plunged into many undercover operations against wildlife crimes, including sandalwood smuggling, they have been a part of the enforcement team of Peryar Tiger Reserve (PTR).

Today Shivaraman and his team of 21 colleagues have the pride of being considered as a dependable associate unit of intelligence and enforcement by the Kerala Forest Department as well as the Tamil Nadu Police.

This is a big departure from the time when the present members of Vidyal Sangam were socially despised for being branded smugglers.

And the ascent from living a life of ignominy to becoming a respected and highly motivated professional group of eco development workers did not come easy. It was really a hard earned success story for each of the member who made journey from darkness to light (Vidyal).

The story personifies the unflinching will and determination of authorities of two neighbouring states and exemplifies the concept of benefit beyond boundaries for conservation. It's a real transboundary initiative of PTR!

The story...

Sandalwood smuggling was always a headache for the PTR park managers. Sandal was highly alluring to smugglers, especially those from Tamil Nadu. It was a tale of rampant looting that trees were felled and sandalwood was transported across the border by thieves with uncanny swiftness. By remaining invisible to the patrolling guards, in most cases the bandits would leave no trails for investigation.

As clues continued to elude the authorities, a task force comprising the best of forest staff and EDC members was formed under the leadership of the then Range Officer of Thekkady, Raju K Francis. The team was named 'Cheetah squad. Its task was to protect sandal, snap the alliance of smugglers and apprehend 'Aruvi', the familiar name of a thief, who no one had seen.

It was after an eventless month Cheetah stumbled on to a small temporary shed made of grass on the crevices in Tamil Nadu near the PTR borders. It was a difficult reach through the undulating terrain. The discovery provided the clue that the shed could be used for cleaning and stacking sandal before transportation and there was all possibility that Aruvi was somewhere near.