Anil Bishnoi was about to call it a night when he received a call from his village informer in Rajasthan’s Hanumangarh to save a blackbuck. So, in 14℃ weather, he raced to the spot, driving for 30 kilometres on pitch dark roads.
By the time he reached, the antilope cervicapra had been shot dead and prepared into a delicacy. Anil then handed over the perpetrator to the police, and was subsequently sentenced for six years for killing the endangered animal. Anil had filed a case under the Schedule I of the Wildlife Act, 1972.
The incident got a lot of attention from the regional media and also sent a stern warning to the poachers in the region.
“He wanted to impress his son-in-law with this meat dish and there was no remorse when he confessed,” Anil, a farmer and activist, tells The Better India.
“I have come across several poachers who believe it is okay to kill animals for entertainment purposes. It is because of such people that I decided to initiate a mission to protect these animals in Hanumangarh and Sriganganagar in 1990,” he adds.
The 48-year-old belongs to the Bishnoi community who consider blackbucks sacred and a reincarnation of their Guru Bhagwan Jambeshwar. The community has been known to make sacrifices to protect the trees and animals. They believe that every living creature has the right to live peacefully.
“We will never tolerate any harm to blackbucks. With a life span of 10-15 years, they are nervous and shy by nature. They inhabit jungles, farms and scrubland,” adds Anil.
A recipient of Dalmia Water Environment Protection Award and state-level Amrita Devi Environmental Protection Award, Anil’s brilliant efforts have been recognised and lauded multiple times by the Rajasthan government. He has been accorded with the status of Honorary Wildlife Warden.
Anil, who once wanted to get into the teaching profession, shares how he has been keeping more than 10,000 chinkara and blackbucks protected across 60 panchayats while tackling death threats.
‘Threats Won’t Stop Me’
Growing up in the 80s, Anil noted the deaths of two to three blackbucks almost every day in his district. While he was angry and sad, there was nothing he could do.
It was during his college days that he finally got a chance to make a difference.
“In 1990, I was studying in a Suratgarh college. One day, our community had organised a conference to spread awareness on deforestation and killing of the wildlife. This made me rethink my life’s philosophy and had a deep impact on my mind. The highlight was the case studies of people who had been saving blackbucks for decades,” recalls Anil.
After finishing his B Ed and BA, Anil returned to his village called Lakhasar and took up farming of pulses and grains on his ancestral land.
There were multiple reasons behind the blackbuck fatalities such as dog bites, extreme climates and road accidents. Hunting was the most pressing issue so Anil began a campaign to stop poachers.
But for a 20-something boy to catch hold of experienced poachers was not easy.
He mobilised villagers to alert him every time there was a hunting possibility. From stopping the poachers to registering cases against them, Anil did everything. His mission soon got attention from nearby villages and the poaching-related calls increased.
In one of his earlier cases, the hunter had killed five blackbucks for their meat. As he tried to stall the hunter till the forest officials and local police arrived on the spot, the hunter pointed a gun to his head.
“I was scared but it was necessary to risk my life, if it meant saving the species. Thankfully, the team arrived and he was arrested. I have caught 300 poachers red handed so far and put several of them in jail,” says Anil.
Anil visits courts as a witness and follows up with the cases till the punishment is given. At times, he even organises peaceful rallies to sensitise people to the issue. He works with a team of 3,000 people across 12 districts of Rajasthan.
Karan Singh Kajla, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Hanumangarh, says, “Anil ji’s work is commendable. I have not seen another person doing such a selfless job of saving lives in the area. Anil has made saving wildlife his life’s goal. Whatever they do, they do it from the heart. The forest department is grateful for his and his team’s services.”
‘They Are Like My Children’
Apart from preventing poachers, Anil also looks after the well-being of blackbucks and chinkaras.
He looks after the injured animals and gives them first-aid either at home or at the forest department’s medical centre.
“In case of roadside or shooting injuries, they take a few weeks to heal and during this time it is important to give them love and care. Hunters often kill the mother and then the children are left alone, who may fall prey to the wild dogs. We rescue and look after them till they are ready to go back to the forest. If they die, then we organise their funerals, too,” says Anil.
Another major issue that Anil and his team face is the water scarcity during summers. Insufficient drinking water can be fatal for wildlife. So, he raised Rs 2,00,000 among the villagers to build 66 ponds in 2017.
“We got a lot of support from people who were kind enough to give us construction materials for free — even masons did not charge anything. In case of scanty rainfall, we spend money to get water from tankers. Fortunately, for the last two years we have received a good amount of rainfall,” says Anil.
Ramswaroop Manjhu, National President of All India Bishnoi Mahasabha, says, “Anil has been engaged in the work of saving wildlife for many years. He contributes to protecting the environment and wildlife with the spirit of service. His work is nothing short of exemplary.”
Initially, Anil’s family was skeptical about his work given the risks, but now his children, wife, brother and sister-in-law are the first ones to provide first-aid to the injured blackbucks and chinkaras. During lockdown too the family looked after the deer.
Given that most villages have a blackbuck population of more than 100, Anil has been trying to set up a community reserve for them since 2000. Until he gets one, he says that he will continue to provide his services.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)