Shepherd Urs Khan, his father and flock. Pics courtesy/Sanctuary Nature Foundation, Maitreyee Mujumdar
Urs Khan is a shepherd from the little known village of Nimba in Rajasthan's dusty Thar desert. He is also illiterate. However, that hasn't stopped the young man from taking on challenges that even the educated among us would turn away from.
Khan plays a pivotal role in the conservation of the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard. He also leads a community-watchdog network that reports threat in the region, maintains a waterhole for desert wildlife, assists wildlife researchers and speaks at local schools about conservation.
Now, he is among the 13 unconventional project leaders selected to be part of the Mud on Boots Project, for which funds are currently being raised on crowdfunding platform Ketto. The project releases R3 lakh to each leader over a period of two years, while also connecting them with relevant organisations and promoting their cause.
"The initial plan was to identify three people who were making an impact on the ground, and support them through the TINA Grant, which we set up with banker Paul Abraham in honour of his late wife," says Cara Tejpal of Sanctuary Nature Foundation, which launched the initiative earlier this month. However, she adds that after receiving nominations from trusted sources, they couldn't decide whom to leave out, as they were all unique. For instance, Chhattisgarh resident Sajal Madhu had been recording and mitigating human-elephant conflict in Dharamjaigarh, and Sunil Harsana was working to protect Haryana's sacred Mangar Bani forest.
"It was hard to pick only a few, so we decided to support all 13," says Tejpal. They received funds from the grant and independent donors, but then hit a roadblock. "That's why we went the crowdfunding way. This way, people can also take ownership of the project," she adds.
Green Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Rita Banerji was among those who came forward with three nominations. "Two of them, Tsuseki and Limthure Yimchunger, hail from a remote village in Nagaland where hunting is prevalent. Despite not having monetary support earlier, both were doing their bit, whether it was through banning hunting, involving youth, or documenting biodiversity," says Banerji. It helps when those spearheading the efforts belong to resident communities, she adds.
Author and conservation journalist Prerna Singh Bindra, meanwhile, nominated Rajeev Chauhan (see box) as a project leader. She says, "A lot of them live off the grid, so not many hear about their efforts. I'm glad that through this project, the money will reach those who are doing the work."
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Meet the green heroes
A resident of Etawah, Uttar Pradesh, Chauhan works for the conservation of the critically endangered gharial and other wildlife in the Chambal river. Through his Society for Conservation of Nature, he monitors and protects gharial nesting sites and sandbanks, while also engaging in outreach programmes. Chauhan hopes to buy a boat and establish a field station for his work in the near future.
Once ridiculed by neighbours for his interest in the endangered fishing cat, senior citizen Joydeb Pradhan's conservation efforts are paying off in nine villages of West Bengal's Howrah District. Since 2010, Pradhan has been working with scientists to collect data, and with the Forest Department and Gram Panchayats to stop retaliatory killings. His work has seen the formation of four local Fishing Cat Protection Committees.