In November 2014, at Berodi village of Gondia district, close to Nagzira wildlife sanctuary, a sloth bear gave birth to cubs in the outhouse of Sarpanch Vasanta Hatwar’s home. The village head panicked. He wrote to forest department demanding the animal be eliminated before it attacked anyone or else he would burn down the outhouse itself.
An angry mob had gathered threatening the forest officials. Man-animal conflicts are common in such areas with locals only too eager to have animals eliminated. At a time when conservationists are not welcome, 23-year-old Tejas Parshionikar dared to intervene. His words led to a change of heart. “The sarpanch was baying for bear family’s blood but I could convince him,” said Tejas.
“I asked the sarpanch, how would he treat a woman who came to his house for childbirth? This bear found your home a safe abode for its little ones. Would you throw out someone who sought refuge in your place? It is as sinful as harming a woman with a newborn?” he recalled.
The words had an effect on Hatwar who then let the animal stay. When cubs were grown enough, them and mother bear moved out and none was harmed, Tejas said. The same approach helped at two more places.
A graduate in computer science, Tejas is a conservationist by passion and trekker by profession. His love for wildlife began during the safari trips to nearby tiger reserves. He got sensitized toward issues like depleting green cover, falling tiger population, and man-animal conflict. He set up an NGO, Save Ecosystem and Tiger (SEAT). Within a short span, the youngster gained the expertise of a veteran.
In 2014, while tracking wolves near Paradgaon lake off Umred Road, nearly 20km from city, he spotted one that had his mouth stuck in a plastic container. “The animal was tracked for nearly four hours and finally netted. The forest officials reached soon. Finally, it was held by its tail and trapped in a net. The box was removed and a life was saved,” Tejas said.
Tejas’s team also discovered there were tigers in Lendezari sub-division near Tumsar range. “This is a territorial forest, outside the boundaries of a wildlife sanctuary. We look for areas where there is a likely presence of big cats. The Lendezari patch seemed to have the potential and there was local intelligence about the presence of tigers too,” he said.
“Our team inspected the area on foot and found pugmarks. After that, the forest department installed camera traps. It was found that the area had nine tigers. The patch, which otherwise did not get much attention, now has a special focus for tiger conservation,” he added.
SEAT had a key role in handling a tiger that had strayed into a marriage function at a village in neighboring Balaghat district of Madhya Pradesh. The animal was tranquilized in Tumsar range under Bhandara district of Maharashtra. The team helped the experts, who tranquilized it, track the animal.
“We followed it on foot, sometimes getting as close as a few meters. It appeared as harmless as a pet dog,” Tejas said. The NGO has also formed prompt reaction teams (PRT) among villagers to take initiative during conflict situations. His aim is to create a more suitable ecosystem for conservation.