Prabir Kumar Palei

Wildlife Service Awards (2009)

For protecting the Similipal Tiger Reserve for over three decades and risking his life against poaching gangs, timber smugglers and Naxal violence.

He has arrested over 100 people in a lifetime devoted to the protection of the tiger and has been attacked, ambushed and routinely threatened for his pains. But nothing is able to shake his steely resolve to protect the forest he loves. One of Project Tiger’s longest-serving foot soldiers, he joined Similipal’s frontline team in 1974. Through his distinguished career he shunned ‘coveted’ postings, preferring instead to spend 36 years as a Forester in the most remote forests of Similipal. He was mentored by the legendary Saroj Raj Choudhury and has literally walked thousands of miles on foot patrols. Palei probably knows Similipal better than any other living person. He speaks of the rise of Similipal in the 1970s, of tiger families moving from the core into the buffer and then into Reserved Forests farther afield. When protection was at its best, he has even seen a tiger sprawled across the verandah of the Upper Barhakamuda Range Office. Despite the terror unleashed by extremists in Similipal in March-April 2009, Palei and his team displayed courage beyond the call of duty. With no roof over their heads and only a damaged VHF communications tower to connect  them to the rest of the world, he and his men returned to their post in the Upper Barhakamuda Range in the core area of Similipal Tiger Reserve. When warned by the security forces against staying in such deep forests after dark, he responded: “If not us, will you look after the forest?”

Prabir Palei’s life has just one purpose – the Similipal Tiger Reserve. His mission now is to fire new recruits with the zeal and skills to save the tiger.