Thursday, March 10, 2016

Grittily Guarding the Gir's Big Cats

Grittily Guarding the Gir's Big Cats
Inian Express
When a forest that is home to 523 lions did not stop Darshana Kagda think twice from saying yes to a job as a Forester, you've got to wonder what else will! Being headstrong paid off too, as Darshana joined the women's forest guard team at the Gir Lion Sanctuary. 

Happily married for over a year now, Darshana is so hands-on that she didn't take a break even on her wedding day. A real surprise, considering it meant reporting to the forest at 5.30 in the morning and getting less than 12 days off a year! Apparently, she  loves the lions and the forest way too much to think about anything else. Even her family!

Like her female colleagues, Darshana's dream job began with her convincing her parents to allow her to pursue this unconventional profession. "Initially, they were not very happy with me spending hours in the forest, but when they saw me saving lives and earning my own money, they came around," she says. Darshana who has seven siblings is the sole bread-earner of the house.

But, more than the money, it is the job satisfaction she gets that Darshana cherishes the most. "I love my job, I love the forest and I love the animals. What more should I ask for?" she asks with a smile. "Moreover, I have so many adventurous stories that will last me a lifetime," she says while sharing an encounter with a lion.

"It happened when I was returning from my night rounds. A lion was sitting less than a feet from me. I was alone and I froze. But after a few minutes of staring at each other, the lion walked away. Maybe it knew that I was a friend," she says, with a laugh.

Being someone who never rode a bike, Darshana today is completely dependent on her motorcycle for her patrolling rounds. "It took me more than 10 falls before I finally managed to get a hold of it," she says.

Having been a part of many rescue operations, Darshana recalls an incident that has been her longest operation so far. A villager was killed by a lioness and while the rest of the village labelled the lioness as a 'man-eater', Darshana and her team decided to investigate the matter at the grassroots. After a 15-day long probe, it was clear that the lioness' attack was actually an act of defense. And thanks to their analysis, the two cubs of the lioness did not lose their mother.

"We think beyond out duty, we think as mothers, as sisters who are always ready to help anyone we love. That's what makes us different," she adds.

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