The forests and wildlife of India are protected by the frontline staff of the forest department. These forest guards dedicate their lives to our wild spaces and work under some of the most difficult - and sometimes hostile - conditions to protect our wildlife. Their lives revolve around patrolling the forests day and night, with guns when necessary, to keep illegal activities out of the forests. By the sheer virtue of working in that natural landscape, they come across some amazing wildlife and natural history moments in the wild.

We at Nature inFocus, are starting a not-for-profit Guards with Cameras Fellowship to arm these forest guards with cameras. 

How does this help? 

The benefits will be two-fold: 

1. Guards could be more motivated to explore the forests and photograph what they see. 

2. They will be able to document new discoveries and also tell unheard, untold stories about ground level conservation issues in India.

As part of this fellowship, NiF will pick 5 guards every year (from different parts of the country) to not only use these cameras but also to guide and mentor them in photographing the stories of their lives. We will continually curate these stories and get our Fellows to showcase their work via public exhibits and talks, and through regular field notes on our NiF website.

This year's fellows

This year, we started off with this incredible trio: Zakuma, Chandan and Paro. They were speakers at the Nature inFocus festival and have been documenting and filming in the regions they patrol in, bringing together footage of rare and gorgeous natural history. 

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(L-R) Paro Natung, Chandan Patro and Zakhuma take the stage at the Nature inFocus festival

Zakhuma works as a forest guard and wildlife photographer with the Mizoram Forest Department in Dampa Tiger Reserve. Working in difficult terrain in one of India’s remote Tiger Reserves he is a remarkable Forest Department employee and self-taught photographer. He began to record images of everything from mosses to wild clouded leopards and aided by his impeccable field skills and local knowledge of terrain and wildlife, he soon had a vast portfolio of images of landscapes, plants, flowers, insects, fungi, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. 

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Yellow-throated Martens photographed by Zakhuma, from the Mizoram Forest Department

Paro Natung grew up in Darlong village, just across the river that forms the boundary of Pakke Tiger Reserve. Growing up, his only experience with wildlife was of elephants crop-raiding the family's rice fields. So when he joined the forest department, he was excited to learn more about the wildlife of Pakke. His team won the best camera trap photograph award, which propelled his interest in wildlife and photography even further.  

Chandan Patro's earliest memories are of staying with his father at an anti-poaching camp. A decade later, at the age of 16, he found himself posted at an anti-poaching camp himself. Patro's father worked for 30 years as a driver in Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, which was then part of Pakke Tiger Reserve. When he passed away suddenly in a car accident, the DFO offered Patro a posting at Diji anti-poaching camp, inside Pakke Tiger Reserve, where he learned to walk the forests with his father's colleagues. To try and capture the beauty of the camp, he used to take photographs with his binoculars attached to his mobile phone while patrolling. At Green Hub, along with Paro Natung, he created a film by the staff, for the staff — possibly the first film of its kind, not only in Pakke, but the country. 

Watch this trailer of a film Paro and Chandan are working on. It's called Pakke in Macro, and it look pretty darn good. 

How you can help 

As photographers and enthusiasts of the outdoors, you must have cameras that you don't use anymore, or even equipment that you no longer need, like tripods, camera bags, lenses, laptops. Give them to Nature inFocus and we'll ensure we pick a guard that this goes to. 

And the best part? You'll be able to see for yourself where your goodwill has gone to, with the stories they create. We assure you the transparency of process and the commitment towards ensuring the equipment you donate is in able and credible care.  

Thank you to everyone that has already donated. 

Rana Belur & Sugandhi Gadadhar (Panasonic 7M700 Handycam, Rode Video Mic, Extra battery (2) + charger)
Sushmitha Reddy (Benro tripod)
Ganesh Shankar (Nikon D300, Nikon 70-300mm lens, Nikon Battery back-up, tripod)
Varun Surendran (Canon 55-250mm)
Ramakrishnan Aiyaswamy 
KS Manju Mohan (SD cards -3)
Tushar Samal (Monopod, Lens cleaning unit, SD cards 2 Nos (64GB, 32GB), Micro SD card with adapter, 64GB)
Prem Panicker 
Maya Kilpadi
Shivang Mehta. 

If your name is missing, and you've donated, please write in to us, we really would like to showcase and send a shout out here to all friends of this initiative, so please reach out.

If you are in Bangalore, drop in at R SQUARE Consulting, Nature inFocus, 3305, 8th Cross, 12th A Main Road, HAL 2nd Stage, Indiranagar, Bengaluru - 560008. Or call us on 080 4169 7737. If you're sending us equipment, please write to us first, so we can look out for it. We're at [email protected]