Villagers have protected species for generations, remain sceptical of outsiders knowing about the 100yrold turtles
They say tourism ruins a place. This is what the people of Kajalheri, a village in Fatehabad located almost 200 kilometres from Gurugram, were worried about when we visited a pond in the village to report on the 100-year-old turtles there. One of the villagers, a self-appointed guard of the pond, said he was not interested in talking to the media because then everyone would come to know about the place.
The guard told me and the photojournalist accompanying me to go back. “We don’t want this village to become a tourist spot; we want it to remain peaceful,” said Ramesh Kumar, a villager.
Another reason for their cold response was the fear that the 100-yearold turtles might become the target of thieves. After three hours of intense negotiation — thanks to my good command over the Haryanvi dialect— I finally got them to trust me.
I soon realised that I had to, as a matter of fact, convince the whole village who were gatekeepers of the pond. There was even a situation when I thought I would have to leave without having a chance to take a look at the turtles.
But I said to myself, it was important to write about the precious wildlife that needed to be preserved by the authorities. Therefore, I tried to present my side once again.
The Bishnoi community is well-known to protect its wildlife, flora and fauna. In Kajalheri, the villagers take turns to guard the pond. They even sleep beside it to make sure that no one
steals or harms the turtles.
Almost every family in the village cooks extra chapatis so that the 64-yearold Gopi Kumar, who is in-charge of feeding the turtles, can take them to the pond next morning. Even the children of the village, during their summer vacations, take turns to guard the pond.
“Once, five people in a car came to steal the turtles. When the priest who lives in the temple nearby saw the thieves, he raised an alarm. The villagers rushed to the pond for help. Realising that they were heavily outnumbered, the thieves fled, but not before brutally assaulting the priest,” said Kumar.
Even the turtles seem to have a special bond with the villagers. They only come to the surface of the pond when they are summoned by the villagers by a clap. When Kumar clapped, the turtles rushed to the surface as if they were waiting for him to arrive.
Despite the pond being home to many fish, no fishing is permitted. In the presence of the villagers, the turtles often come out to sunbathe. They even sit on the backs of water buffalos taking a bath.
Though it was a challenge to convince the locals and report on the turtles of the village, it was heartening to see a community treating its animals at par with its human members.
Others can surely take lessons from this village and show similar determination in protecting the environment and the wildlife.
(The writer covers crime, jails, court, wildlife, women and child development, excise and RWAS with