By Satish Aparajit
Dehradun, erstwhile city of green hedges, grey hair and salubrious climate, was immune from the extreme heat, as local showers would bring respite the moment the mercury soared. However, all this is a thing of the past as rampant felling of trees as well as extensive construction in the name of development has led to unrelentingly high temperatures. While the government is busy creating a “Smart City” that has made it a most un-smart town, there is scant regard for the natural resources and reserve forests in the vicinity that are being destroyed systematically to build highways. The forest department seems complicit and proposes underground passages for the animals to cross over as the roads are being built through the jungles. They expect the elephants to understand their route is now through the underpass, tomorrow the department will also install traffic lights for the animals to understand when to cross.
The weather has changed drastically, but the people in power sit in air-conditioned offices so the weather always remains cool for them. Why would they spend their time and efforts on something known as wildlife? Who bothers about the wildlife? In the Rajaji National Park, the water holes generally dry up during the three summer months, this time the crisis has been even more acute. The fact of the matter is that most of the ranges have a water tanker at their disposal that can be used to ferry water and fill up the water holes for animals. At some places there are generator sets attached to pipelines that can directly fill up the water hole, but no efforts are made to do so as it requires fetching diesel and then operating the gen set. Authorities involved in taking care of the national parks look the other way and skywards for the weather gods to bring respite or they favour the law of the jungle where survival of the fittest will prevail. That’s the apathy of the authorities.
But there are people who are invested not only in the planet but have their heart beating for the hapless animals of the forest. Maxim Thomas (better known as Butch), a saviour who along with his friend, the late Kunwar Samarjit Singh (better known as Sammy) of Kuchesar Mudfort, who unfortunately passed away recently, have been filling up the water holes since 2015. They first started with Mohand, Asarodhi and Fandowala, (Ramgarh Range). The logistics of taking water to Mohand in the Rajaji Range proved rather expensive so Maxim discontinued there, but continues to fill water holes in the remaining two places. He is happy that he can contribute in his own small way. However, he wishes he could do more and fill more water holes but is restrained by financial constraints.
Maxim grew up in Ramgarh Estate in Rajaji Park, which was owned by his father, the late Martin Thomas. He developed an abiding interest in wild life and used to track animals, spent many a carefree hour during his childhood and youth at his father’s knees in Machaans, learning about the forest and its inhabitants. Maxim’s knowledge of wild life and forest is phenomenal. A walk with him in the park is informative with practical and realtime experiences that make Jim Corbett and Kenneth Anderson come alive. Maxim alias Butch was also part of the team that was registered with the forest department to shoot man-eaters in the state of Uttarakhand. He has been part of a team that successfully eliminated three Leopards. He naturally feels sad about it but there were no alternatives to save the animals. Butch also helps in fighting forest fires during summer, every year. He is a Man Friday for the forest and the department.
I spent some time with Butch to understand how the whole operation is carried out and share his experiences during the last few years. He mentioned a Forest Ranger, Rakesh Negi, who inspired him through his dedication and care of the forest and the wild life. Rakesh is an educated young man with a drive to do something for wild life and chose this as his career. He is presently posted at Raipur Range.
One of Butch’s most fascinating experiences is that the animals, particularly, Elephants, initially were suspicious and would either charge or pretend to charge at their tractor, but after a few days they realised that it’s a water tanker that provides the most required water for them to drink and bathe in. Now the Elephants wait for the tractor to arrive. In fact, all the animals lie in wait and the moment they hear the whirring sound of the tractor engine they start to move towards the waterhole. Elephants do not drink dirty water unless there is no choice; they prefer to drink flowing water. So, every water hole that Butch fills with water has a small houdi (water tank) and water passes through this to the water hole. Elephants drink water from the houdi and bathe in the main water hole like rest of the animals.
The cost of filling water is Rs 30,000 for 3 water holes every month. Now that I have also joined Butch in his endeavor, it is suggested that like-minded people come forward and assist him in the great cause. We need to support such causes as it’s for the future of wild life, forests and ultimately our own. Please contact me on email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will take it forward. Till then, Butch carry on, the great crusader.
(Satish Aparajit is a retired Wing Commander and Shauya Chakra awardee.)