It must be a cold, cold world where people don’t cry at Mufasa’s death in the Disney movie, The Lion King. That was my first encounter with a lion, nay animal death. In 2005, the Asiatic lion was officially declared an endangered species in Gujarat’s Gir National Park. But conservation efforts and the declaration of Gir as protected land raised the lion population above 500. A humungous amount of credit goes to the Gir forest guards, many of whom are women.
In a charming photo essay for The Week, Aayush Goel details the lives of the female guards of Gir National Park. According to the essay, the guards tend to pregnant lionesses, nourish cubs, rescue leopards and above all placate angry humans (read : nearby villagers). Fondly called the “lion queens”, these women chose to head to the forests instead of taking up desk jobs when the Narendra Modi government announced a 33 per cent reservation for women in wildlife rescue jobs.
Apart from passion for their work and a love for the jungle, these women have found better financial stability for their families. One of the rescuers, Rozeena, brought herself out of poverty after being recruited into the brigade. The essay also details the support their families give them and it an endearing story to behold.
While the idea of roaming in forests and walking with the wild might sound daunting to most, these women believe they lead ordinary lives, perhaps with better job satisfaction. They insist that they face the same challenges as every woman; work-life balance, managing children (one of the rescuers is 3 months pregnant), except, their idea of children include all the animal cubs they take care of.
The female guard brigade has the complete support of the forest department. R R Nala, deputy conservator of Gir National Park, says, “They shatter all stereotypical notions about women. They work shoulder-to-shoulder with men to preserve this jungle.The brigade is an asset to our department.”