Image Source: conservationindia
More than almost any other person, the life of Fateh Singh Rathore (1938 – 2011) is synchronous with the lives of tigers. Having saved a place – Ranthambhore National Park (Rajashtan, India) – when everyone lost hope for the conservation of tigers, he found his life’s work in protecting a species with which he was extremely in love with. He always believed in working with the people to save the tiger and in a country with billion population only this people-centric approach worked.
He was born in a desert village near Jodhpur in Rajasthan (India). He always had an inclination to work for nature but not sure if he could make a career in it. But there was a divine design and he joined the Indian Forest Service in 1960 and was part of the first Project Tiger. He was trained at the Wildlife Institute of India (Dehradun, India) and the first officer to be trained for wildlife management. A short stint with his mentor changed his life forever, and was given an open hand to handle forest activities.
The jungles of Rajasthan were once teeming with tigers, but hunting was a favourite pastime of indigenous royalty and British officers. There was no priority more urgent or vital than saving the national animal. There were around 20 villages inside the park and virtually no tigers. He had an almost impossible task of moving the villagers out of Ranthambore National Park. The people hugged the trees and wept. They felt that their future was utterly bleak but he succeeded in turning acres of desert into a beautiful, lush forest – a beautiful home for the relocated. With the people gone, nature responded beautifully. Not just the tiger, all the animals that had been driven out by humans years ago returned.
He received several awards and honours in recognition of his tiger conservation work:
* 1982 – Fred M. Packard International Parks Merit Award by the IUCN Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas in recognition of outstanding service in furthering the conservation objective of protected areas. Given by the Duke of Edinburgh.
* 1983 – International Valour Award for bravery in conservation.
* Esso Award by Shri I.K. Gujral, Former Prime Minister of India for lifetime achievement in Tiger Conservation.
* 1999 – Honorary Wildlife Warden of Ranthambhore National Park.
* 2011 – World Wildlife Fund lifetime achievement award.
Fateh Singh Rathore lived for his passion, fought stiff resistance from a powerful lobby of bureaucrats, and was even barred entry into his beloved national park, all because he would not give up his fight to save tigers. Yet, against all odds, he remained an eminently upright man, admired by Rajiv Gandhi, Bill Clinton, Amitabh Bachchan, and wildlife activists like Valmik Thapar. Deeply loyal to his friends, he remained an unconventional family man, a gifted amateur actor and a lover of the good life. India and its green corridor will always be indebted to this “Tiger Man.”