Submitted by Editor on Sun, 2016-03-13 14:38 Bandipur: It has become a norm among wildlife conservationists to throw barbs at forest staff whenever there is fire in any of our tiger reserves and wildlife sanctuaries. Most often it is the foot soldiers who cop the blame when an angry farmer or shepherd sets our forests afire. If only they were in the shoes of those underpaid, impoverished, ill-equipped, fatigued forest guards and watchers, they would understand the enormity of the task and risk of protecting our forests and wildlife, against great odds. Those who cast accusations against these unsung heroes have no clue of what it is to be in the midst of a forest fire. The smoke suffocates you, the heat is unbearable. Only those sick in their mind would set the forest afire and then work untiringly to arrest the raging flame. It is shocking then that an honorary wildlife warden has blamed the forest staff for the recent fire in Bandipur. If he were a true wildlife conservationist, as he claims he is, he would have desisted from casting such aspersions on the ground staff. Instead of encouraging them, he has antagonised and demoralised them, more so at a critical time when the summer heat has transformed the entire green forest landscape brown. One spark can trigger an inferno, reducing dry brambles and withering trees to ashes. We have to question Wildlife Warden NM Naveen’s intent. He clearly understands that the entire forest force, including assistant conservator of forests and range forest officers have been harassed by his “good friend” and Conservator of Forests BB Mallesh. Instead of cajoling Mallesh, who is also the Bandipur tiger reserve director, to take his staff into confidence in the larger interest of conservation; he is encouraging him to wage a battle against his own staff. To quote Naveen: “There are staff who don’t like the way Mallesh functions. Mallesh is known to be strict and has enforced norms. He has cut down on corruption and goes on night patrol, which some people don’t like. There could be complicity of staff in the fire incident… The director keeps a check on movement of staff, including officials at night, something that hasn’t gone down well with a section of the employees.” Nonsensical statement. If forest staff don’t go on night patrol, poachers would have a field day. How can field staff be corrupt, when they hardly come in contact with the public. Is the kettle calling the pot black? As he claims responsibility of getting Mallesh posted to this critical tiger habitat, Naveen ought to support his confidant. He has to pat his back, right? As a wildlife warden it is Naveen’s responsibility to ensure everything is hunky dory in the tiger reserve. It is his duty to bring lapses to the notice of the forest minister and forest secretary. Though there are heaps of complaints against Mallesh’s administration, Naveen has never raised the issue with senior forest officers. Why? We have a couple of basic questions to ask of Naveen: 1. As a wildlife warden, Naveen was aware that the new Bolero jeep which was to be sent to Omkar range for protection duty is being used by Mallesh for wildlife safari drives. Why didn't he raise the issue? 2. With vast tracts of forest cover having been devastated by fire in Moleyur range, the forest department ought to be battle ready for such exigencies during the peak of summer. But there is no patrol vehicle in the adjacent Nugu wildlife sanctuary. Why hasn't Naveen addressed this issue? If these questions are not fair Mr Naveen, we dare you to a public debate on issues afflicting Bandipur and wildlife conservation. Will you take up the challenge? Next time, before you cast a stone on those who protect our fragile ecosystem, please understand that you yourself live in a glass house.