Wildlife Service Awards
Inspired wildlifers, forest employees, researchers, villagers… anyone currently involved with nature conservation and the battle to protect our biosphere. Sanctuary searched for true heroes who display extraordinary courage, dedication and determination and set high personal standards for others to follow…
Deputy Conservator of Forests, jurist, anti-poaching crusader
“Dear Sir, the forest is not a convenience store”. That’s what Ritesh Sarothiya and his team have to keep reminding hordes of people far more often than they would have liked.
Besides this, he must deal with mountains of paperwork. Coordinate hundreds of staff covering thousands of square kilometres of forest on foot. Undertake late night patrols and early morning meetings. On top of this, his mission includes staff training, wildlife research, wildlife population monitoring and wildlife crime investigations.
This is only a short list of what it takes to protect India’s Protected Area Network. An Indian Forest Service officer and Deputy Conservator of Forests in the Madhya Pradesh cadre, Ritesh Sarothiya is the Regional Deputy Director of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) in New Delhi.
His team’s many adventures take place in near anonymity, but could well be justice and enforcement headlines in themselves:
“Deployed dog squads called ‘Super Sniffers’ across all tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh.” “Fastest conviction of a pangolin case.” “Highest conviction in tiger poaching case.” “International syndicate of turtle smugglers – busted!” “Successful capture of a poacher with 300 tiger hides and 1,200 leopard hides.” “Infamous tiger poacher arrested after six years on the run!”
Ironically, this wildlife defender whose life is focused today on the prevention and investigation of wildlife crime studied to be a mechanical engineer and lawyer. Over a seven-year stint as the Officer-Incharge in the Madhya Pradesh Special Task Force (Wildlife) in Bhopal, the Incharge of the State Forest Cyber Cell, Bhopal, and, now the WCCB, Sarothiya’s long list of arrests, investigations, and convictions related to wildlife crime range from turtle and timber smuggling to tiger and pangolin poaching. Familiar with the latest available forensic technologies, he has collaborated with several international organisations as well.
India’s rich biodiversity coexists with poverty and porous borders thanks to our innate reverence for life. But this has also turned it into a target for the lethal international wildlife trade in animal parts and the exotic pet trade. To his dismay, India is currently counted as one among the top 20 countries in the world for wildlife trafficking, and among the top 10 for wildlife trafficking by air. Even in the country’s heartland, despite the superhuman efforts of individuals such as Sarothiya, poaching continues to be rampant. Madhya Pradesh tops the list of blackbuck poaching cases; with at least 170 poaching cases currently pending under trials since 1972. As many as 34 tigers died in the ‘Tiger State’ in 2022, some on account of natural causes, others unknown. Under Ritesh Sarothiya’s leadership, his team and the MP State Tiger Strike Force arrested over 700 people over a span of six years, with 172 of them involved in pangolin-related cases. Responsible for the deployment of super sniffers (dog squads) in all the tiger reserves and sensitive forest circles of MP, Sarothiya has dedicated his life to the protection of some of the most biodiverse, tiger-rich forests in the country.
The list of achievements continues to stack up with every passing day. But Sarothiya wishes it wasn’t so. He dreams of a day when people across regions were not motivated to poach, plunder or steal from our fragile forests. When people give more than they take. And when India harks back to days when we treated forests as the sacred spaces they have always been.
In his words, “Conservation goes beyond fieldwork, especially when it comes to wildlife crime and successful convictions.” This is why he considers it his function in life to take time out to inform and sensitise Judicial Magistrates, Customs Officers, District Collectors, police officers, field forest officers, bureaucrats, prosecutors and more. Ritesh Sarothiya has been deservedly awarded a host of recognitions, ranging from the Clark R. Bavin Wildlife Law Enforcement International Award, given in 2016 by the CITES Secretary-General at COP 16 in Johannesburg, a Commendation Certificate from the Forest Minister of the time, and a Gold medal from the State Government of Madhya Pradesh, India in 2016, the WWF-PATA Baghmitra award in 2019, the Inaugural WeNaturalists People of Nature award in 2021, and the Eco-Warriors Award in 2023 by the Indian Forest Service Officer Association.
For his passion, bravery and dedication way beyond the call of duty, Sanctuary celebrates and honours the spirit of this remarkable man who insists the credit must go to his team and not just to him!