Periyar Tiger Reserve. Photo by Rahana Habeeb.

The journey from poachers to tourist guides

All the group members were initially subjected to a three-month long training programme. They were taught the importance of conservation. Now a close-knit entity, the Vidiyal team has a powerful intelligence network spread in both Idukki and Theni districts, helping them to gather information on poachers and smugglers. They helped crack over 230 cases of poaching and smuggling in PTR alone in these years.

Inside PTR, they are also working as tourist guides and elephant safari providers. They also engage in night-time patrolling and special anti-poacher activities.

Every month, they work for 26 days for a gross salary of Rs. 22,000. The Periyar Tiger Foundation which operates eco-tourism in PTR is providing them with raincoats, sleeping bags, uniforms and umbrellas. In the famous Thekkadi Lake inside Periyar, they manage the bamboo-rafting activity.

“After getting a steady monthly income, they started sending their children for better education. Now there are postgraduates among the children of this group. Education is helping their new generation to keep themselves away from poaching,” said Francis.

“One among the risky jobs undertaken by the gang was the arrest of notorious forest thief Palappetti Murugan, who was returning from Rameswaram after a pilgrimage with AK 47 gun,” remembers Francis.

The “Periyar model” has since been replicated in many other tiger reserves and sanctuaries. In Parambikulam Tiger Reserve of Kerala and the adjacent Anamalai Tiger Reserve of Tamil Nadu, local tribals have since become part of the Social Tiger Protection Force. Constituted of former poachers and timber smugglers, they are effectively combating forest and wildlife-related offences. There are seven eco-development committees functioning in Parambikulam alone and they are serving the restricted and regulated ecotourism needs and looking after the livelihood of tribal people.

The model has also been replicated in Manas National Park of Assam, where agitators for a separate Bodoland had caused severe danger to wild animals, mainly rhinos. Committees comprising reformed poachers have been formed and they are now protecting the sanctuary well. Many experts have praised Periyar as a model worthy to emulate in other forest areas of the world.

The 17-member group has facilitated the arrest of over 230 gangs engaged in poaching and smuggling in Periyar. Photo by Rahana Habeeb.
The 17-member group of former poachers and smugglers has facilitated the arrest of over 230 gangs engaged in poaching and smuggling in Periyar. Photo by Rahana Habeeb.

Banner Image: Mahamayan is a former poacher and present team leader of Vidiyal Pathukappu Sangam. Photo by Rahana Habeeb.

Article published by Mayank Aggarwal
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