BHOPAL: The big cat in the country's tiger state’ Madhya Pradesh is no longer a source of earning just for tribal men as the fair sex too has donned the mantle of tourist guides for the priceless glimpse of tigers.
The Kanha Tiger Reserve-National Park and the Pench Tiger Reserve-National Park now have 24 women guides, who are accompanying and guiding wildlife lovers in the core areas.
While 13 out of the 150 guides at the Kanha Tiger Reserve are women, 11 out of 83 guides at the Pench Tiger Reserve are women. The Forest department is also working at introducing women guides in hill tourism hotspot Panchmarhi in the Satpura Tiger Reserve.
Most of the women guides, who are aged between 25 and 35 are wives or sisters of daily wager forest department male staff, particularly the drivers of the vehicles, which ferry the tourists to different parts of the core area of the two tiger reserves.
Interestingly, two of the 13 women guides who are guiding the tourists in the 940 sq km core area of the Kanha Tiger Reserve are real sisters Seema and Reshma.
While 31-year-old post-graduate mother of two kids, Seema represents the first batch of registered and trained women guides who started working in 2011, five years younger sister Reshma is a freshly pass out arts graduate, who just like her elder sister now wants to make this profession her permanent calling.
“We’re natives of Balaghat’s Mukki village, which lies in the Reserve’s core area. We’ve grown up listening to the cries-sounds of wild animals, including tigers. Growing up with animals has even equipped us with the rare skill of identifying the genre of different birds merely on the basis of their unique chirping sounds. Our association with Kanha Tiger Reserve-National Park is very old as our brother has been driving the Gypsy SUV there. Seema’s husband too is a guide like her,” Resham said.
Reshma, who joined the profession in 2018, was among the 10-odd women who had formed a self-help group and operated a canteen for tourists with the forest department’s help at the reserve-national park.
“Seeing our keen interest in guiding, the forest department trained us for a month, after which we appeared for an exam and interview. Only I and Sweta Uike were recruited as guides like Seema and her batch-mate Pramila Dhurve. Since then we’ve been earning around Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1.25 lakh in every nine-month tourist season (October-June) and supporting our families and their future,” Reshma said.
And it’s not only daughters of Balaghat district’s Mukki village, but also 25-year-old Sweta Uike, the daughter-in-law of the same village, who has entered this profession.
“We were part of a self-help group (SHGs) and ran a canteen in 2017, but a year later trained as guides. Since then I’ve been working shoulder to shoulder with my Gyspy driver husband to earn over Rs 2 lakh every nine-month tourist season,” Sweta said proudly.
And it’s not only the women guides but their gypsy driver better halves, who are thinking of a financially secure future due to their wives also turning as working members of the family. “We don’t have much land to farm on, so till 2010, I was the lone earning member who used to earn Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000 by driving the Gypsy vehicles in the reserve-national park during the nine-month tourist season. In 2011, my wife Pramila joined as a women guide, only to leave the profession three years later to turn an Anganwadi mini worker. But she returned to the same profession in 2018 and is now earning more than double what I earn in the same tourist season,” Gypsy Vehicle driver Pritam Dhurve said.
Impressed with the commitment of the women guides to their profession, the administration at both the tiger reserves-national parks are contemplating increasing the number of female guides.
“We’re scrutinizing the services of all the 150 guides at our tiger reserve-national park and have found that some male guides are not regular or committed to work. We might deregister such guides in the future and replace them with more trained women guides, as many more of them are raring to join the profession. For us this is real empowerment of tribal women,” Kanha Tiger Reserve Field Director SK Singh said.