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But some people disagree with Mehrotra’s rosy assessment, Khandal maybe most of all. He’s heard it all before. The day after our raid on the illegal gunmaker, he and I are driving to a village south of Ranthambhore, where with luck an infamous poacher named Dashrath Moghiya will surrender to us. Khandal recalls that back in 2004 the forest service also denied there was a poaching problem in the park, which explains why the CBI was never sent here. In a turn of events that tells you everything you need to know about the Indian Forest Service, the job of infiltrating and busting the gangs had fallen to Khandal, the only employee of a penniless local environmental organization called Tiger Watch. The story of Khandal’s unlikely transformation into a crime fighter is, in many ways, the story of modern tiger conservation in India. It’s the tale of an individual stepping up, against all odds, when the system designed to protect tigers falls apart completely.

Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more reluctant tiger hero than Dharmendra Khandal. The man isn’t even what you’d call a huge tiger lover. Sure, he admires them. India’s ten-foot-long Bengal tigers are arguably the mightiest terrestrial predators on the planet. But Khandal has a penchant for decidedly meeker forms of wildlife, like the three-inch-long Persian sand dwarf gecko, a termite-eating reptile he found in 2007, the first ever documented sighting in India. Khandal is an academic, and as he drives he ticks off the other species he has discovered, like the spiders Poltys rehmanii and Poltys godrejii. Khandal would rather be hunting for new creepy-crawlies under rocks, yet here he is, playing cops and robbers with dangerous poachers. “I do not like doing this,” he confesses. “I don’t mind gathering the information, but the forest service should do the raids. They won’t.”

Khandal’s motivation is not what you usually hear from environmental activists. “God sent me to Ranthambhore to work for tigers,” he explains, with complete sincerity. “If I do something else, He won’t support me.” Some of this belief no doubt stems from his birthright as one of India’s high-caste Brahmans, traditionally a community of priests, scholars, and reformers. Khandal grew up viewing money and power as bad things, and today he lives an ascetic lifestyle, shunning alcohol, tobacco, and anything from a kitchen that prepares meat, reading his Durga Saptashati, and residing in a small, no-frills apartment near the park.

We arrive at the Moghiya village and enter one of the huts. The surrender of Dashrath, a well-known skin trader, is a big deal, and the place is packed. For two years, the poacher has been running from Khandal, but according to an informant, he’s ready to turn himself in. We seat ourselves, and after a few minutes Dashrath shuffles in, somewhat sheepishly. Like many Moghiyas, he’s dark skinned, and he wears a white dhoti and dusty slippers. He squats before us, touches Khandal’s feet, and presses his hands together in a show of deference.

“Dashrath,” Khandal says warmly. “What’s it been, two years? Do you remember when I went to buy that leopard skin and you gave me the slip?”

Dashrath grins.

“You turned out to be pretty smart!” Khandal exclaims. The crowd bursts into laughter.

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  • Life of this man is really worth meaning
  • This is a great article. I have heard a lot about Dharmendra Khandal and his efforts to save tigers …
  • every park in this country should have an independent team working on the lines of Dharm but this is…
  • Being a huge wildlife the Jungle calls me every few months . I have seen tigers in Sariska ,Ranthamb…
  • Being a huge wildlife the Jungle calls me every few months . I have seen tigers in Sariska ,Ranthamb…
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