Young Naturalist Awards (2006)
Hakabhai Makawana, Gujarat Young people are understandably attracted to tigers, lions, elephants and rhinos. Hakabhai’s life is governed by less charismatic creatures – vultures. When the Gir Nature Youth Club and the Flamingo Nature Club approached the padavalas (labourers who collect coconuts by climbing trees) of Bhavnagar’s Mahuva District for help with their “Save the Vulture” campaign, Hakabhai a young boy responded instantly. Vulture nests were often destroyed in the process of collecting coconuts. But this young man understood the gravity of the vulture crisis brought on by the drug Diclofenac, which has decimated almost 95 percent of India’s vulture population and he turned his coconut tree climbing skills into a weapon to save the endangered birds. He is now an effective ambassador for vultures, explaining their ecological role to other padavalas who now protect the nests they might once have destroyed.
In 2005, Hakabhai surveyed vultures in a 10 sq. km. area near Mahuva city and discovered over 200 resident White-backed Vultures and 70 nests on coconut trees – the largest vulture nesting colony in Gujarat. Diclofenac has taken a toll of this population too; the numbers in 2006 have dropped to between 70 and 80 birds and he only found 31 nests this year.
Hakabhai still climbs coconut trees for a living, but he is also a part of a monitoring team at the Chhapriyali carcass dumping site where his vulture observations are helping monitor the beleaguered population. Compared to the rest of India, vultures are making a slow recovery on his beat. His colleagues at the Gir Nature Youth Club say Hakabhai’s purpose and drive inspires them. On his part, he has taken to wildlife conservation like a fish to water. He has started learning about snake rescue and release, turtle conservation and the protection of migratory birds. He says his vultures will survive and believes the decline may have been stopped.
He is tomorrow’s face for wildlife protection.