“A Memento of a Lifetime”: An Excerpt from Wildlife Conservationist MK Ranjitsinh’s Autobiographical Account of Wildlife Conservation in India

29 May 2017

In the history of wildlife conservation in India, MK Ranjitsinh stands out as a prominent figure. He joined the Indian Administrative Services in 1961. In 1967, Ranjitsinh was posted to Mandla, in Madhya Pradesh, where he helped save the central Indian barasingha from extinction. Having served as the collector in Mandla, he was later appointed as the secretary of forest and tourism in the Madhya Pradesh state government. During this appointment, Ranjitsinh established 14 new sanctuaries, eight new national parks, and doubled the area of three existing national parks. He served as the country’s first director of wildlife preservation under the environment ministry from 1973 to 1975, a position that he later held for a second spell as well. He is currently an emeritus member of the board of trustees of the Wildlife Trust of India, a leading conservation organisation in the country, in which he previously occupied the position of chairman. One of his most notable contributions to wildlife conservation in India has been his role as one of the prime architects behind the Wildlife (Protection) Act in 1972—the first and foremost central legislation on wildlife conservation in India.

In his book A Life with Wildlife, Ranjitsinh traces the evolution of wildlife conservation in India from the era of princely states and British colonial rule to the present. He writes about the changing nature of conservation efforts, from the times of shikaris to the various conservation efforts he initiated such as Project Tiger, which identified the first tiger reserves in the country. In the following excerpt, Ranjitsinh recounts an experience from 1960, with the fauna of the Kashmir valley.

In the early years of the twentieth century, an event occurred that changed the faunal history of Kashmir and of India. The city of Srinagar was growing and needed a sufficient supply of potable water, not the polluted plenty from the River Jhelum and the Dal Lake. The nearest perennial stream of adequate size was the Dagwan, debouching from a valley above Harwan, adjacent to the famed Mughal gardens of Shalimar. But the valley had ten villages situated on the stream and hence the name—Dachigam. If the source of drinking water for the capital of Kashmir was to be pollution-free, these villages had to be relocated, and that is what Maharaja Pratap Singh did from 1910 onwards. The last resettlement occurred during the reign of his successor Maharaja Hari Singh in 1934, when Dachigam had already become a royal reserve. These were the first cluster of villages ever to be moved out of a protected area in recent history, and served as a constant inspiration to me when I was attempting to move out the first village from a national park or sanctuary in independent India—the village of Sonph, from Kanha National Park, in 1969.

MK Ranjitsinh is a leading wildlife conservationist in India. He played a central role in the drafting of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and is the author of several books on the Indian wildlife, including The Indian Blackbuck (1989), Indian Wildlife (1995), and A Life with Wildlife (2017).

Keywords: conservation wildlife