Where the wild things are

They were snake rescuers in the beginning. They caught snakes from homes and crowded areas and released them into the nearby Umred forest. On one of their expeditions, they even spotted a tiger. Once a teeming habitat for tigers and other wildlife, over the years, Umred forest had withered and wildlife had abandoned it—until Roheet Karu and his band of first-time conservationists decided to develop Umred into a haven for wildlife.

Umred, 187 sq km of forest land, 45 km from Nagpur, has become home to at least 12 tigers. And earlier this year, Umred-Karandla was declared a wildlife sanctuary.

When 25-year-old Roheet Karu received the coveted Sanctuary Asia award for wildlife conservation last November, he fitted the bill—Karu was honoured for his effort that secured sanctuary status for the desolate patch of forest near Nagpur. Karu was declared a winner in the Young Naturalist category. When he started the work, he was even younger—barely 20. Along with a few other out-of-job friends, Karu plunged into the world of wildlife conservation after dropping out of a Nagpur engineering college which he never attended even after securing admission.

Karu's two elder brothers are engineers and his father, Purshotttam Karu, a retired BSNL employee, wanted him to become one too. But Karu knew he would only do what he loved to. "I fell in love with the forest because of our regular visits. I kept going back to the forest. When we spotted a tiger, we were thrilled. All of us felt we needed to do something. Slowly, we took up conservation work and we learnt it on our own. We had no formal training or contact with established conservationists. But we are happy that our forest has been given sanctuary status," says Karu.

Karu's father is proud of him now. "I was upset earlier that he did nothing but wander in the forest. But now it's okay. The award has made me happy," he says.

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