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Award for conservation

The Nilgiri Wildlife and Environment Association got the Rajiv Gandhi Wildlife Conservation Award



FOR A CAUSE A.C. Soundarrajan receiving the award from J. C. Kala

The Rajiv Gandhi Wildlife Conservation Award for 2003 was given to the Nilgiri Wildlife and Environment Association (NWEA) recently in recognition of its outstanding efforts at preserving wildlife in its natural habitat and spreading ecological awareness.

A 129-year-old organisation with a fascinating history, the NWEA is comprised of ordinary citizens who work alongside the Forest Department to further their ecological goals.

"Our working philosophy is to complement and supplement the Forest Department in its conservation efforts," says A. C. Soundarrajan, 67, a member of the organisation for the past 30 years.

"We aim to be assertive rather than aggressive in bringing matters to the department's notice."

A major concern for the NWEA has been vaccinating domesticated cattle against foot and mouth disease, anthrax and black quarter in order to protect wild animals, which have no immunity against these diseases. It has also worked hard at the regeneration of degraded sholas through afforestation, rehabilitation of orphaned animals, habitat monitoring and wildlife census, and been instrumental in the creation of the Mukurthi National Park for conserving the Nilgiri Tahr. In addition, spreading environmental awareness among students, villagers and locals has been a central goal.

"Our most sustained and successful effort was the anti-throwaway plastic campaign from 1999-2000, to educate people on the dangers of the excessive use and improper disposal of plastic cups, bags, etc.," says Soundarrajan.

The NWEA was founded in 1877 as the Game Association by a group of British planters and hunters who became concerned at the alarming decline in game for hunting, and was the first conservation organisation of its kind in India. The members, who remained elite and exclusively British until the early part of the 20th century, put restrictions on hunting with quotas on guns and a ban on the shooting of females of species so that wildlife may continue to be available for their sporting pleasure.

In 1975, with the adoption of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 by the Tamil Nadu Government, the organisation recast its objective from controlled shooting to complete conservation.

It also broke away from its earlier elitist traditions, and today the 500 members come from all walks of life, including students, businessmen, company employees and educators. The District Collector remains the ex-officio president of the NWEA, and the District Forest Officers (DFOs) and the Wildlife Warden of the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary are its official members.

The award, consisting of Rs. one lakh, a medallion and a citation, was handed over by J. C. Kala, Director General of Forests, in New Delhi at the conclusion of Wildlife Week celebrations.

DIVYA KUMAR

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