Keep up with the unspoken tales of
India’s forest rangers.
From the sand to the sea,
the hills and the green.
So run the lines from the brilliant new digital series called ‘Ranger Ranger’, a long-term multimedia reporting project led by Sonali Prasad, in creative collaboration with platform mukha.co. Since last August, Ranger Ranger has been captivating its audience with its deeply anecdotal and engaging accounts of national parks across India and the life of the true custodians of these forests – the rangers.
The project has so far traveled to the Desert National Park, Keoladeo National Park, and Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan; Pakke Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh, Kaziranga in Assam and Intangki in Nagaland, each time bringing a new facet of the oft hidden life of the rangers and the animals they are appointed to protect.
India’s Endangered caught up with Sonail Prasad to learn a little more about her work and this project.
Passionate about reporting from the very frontlines of impact, Sonali Prasad is a climate and environment reporter who experiments with different forms and frames of storytelling through her pieces. From hard-core investigative series to data mappings and crowd sourced journalism, she has traveled across the world from Japan to the United States, Brazil, and India, to tell tales that spill into facets like geopolitics, finance, and culture. Her work has been published in diverse outlets such as the Guardian, Quartz, Hakai and Esquire Singapore. Her team’s investigative series in the Guardian, including her reportage on the Sasan coal plant in India, won an ‘Honorable Mention’ in the Outstanding Explanatory Reporting category at the ‘Society of Environmental Journalists 16th Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment.
She was a fellow at Google News Lab in 2016. She was also a grantee of the Brown Institute of Media Innovation as part of a team that explores technology-driven citizen science narratives on coral reef bleaching. She has degrees in both Computer Science and Journalism.
For Ranger Ranger, Sonali is reporting from India on a Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship, narrating climate change through the lives of forest guards across the country. Using different mediums such as photo, video, drones, art, and 360- visual entities, Sonali hopes to explore different constructs for this unusual story series.
Via Mukha’s network of collaborators, Sonali Prasad teams up with different visual artists depending on the format and location of the story.
Read more: A Life Saved Conserving Forests
IE: What prompted you to take up this project on forest rangers?
Sonali: The project has its seed in one statistics. In 2014, India had the highest rate of ranger mortality in the world, according to reports published by the International Ranger Federation. Even in subsequent years, the non-profit’s call of honor is dotted mostly with the khaki of India’s fallen, some engulfed in raging wildfires, others at the gunpoint of ruthless poachers.
I wanted to know more about the faces behind the statistic. I wanted to document the challenges of the forest frontline staff, their trials, and tribulations in great detail, living in their shoes and chowkis for a while.
Forest guards are also at the very frontiers of climate change and extinction, as they protect India’s green corridors. Through them, I tell you a witness account of how the planet is changing, and why that is mostly man-made.
However, and I must point this out, forest guards are not perfect. They often lack training, systems are flawed, a few cut corners, and some do what they do for the perks of a government job.
But if you glance at a sample set over different terrains, you will understand that most of them are tenacious, fighting against all odds to patrol miles and miles, only to keep things wild. They change the selfish meaning of ‘survival’; the protectors and the protected learn to co-exist.
In the end, ‘Ranger Ranger’ is and will remain a non-fiction, long-form journalism project.
IE: Is there any memorable incident you would like to share?
Sonali: We were shadowing a ranger as he patrolled in Sariska Tiger Reserve on a full moon night. The forest was bathed in silver, the waterholes glittering like pearl. We climbed on top a hilltop to get a full view of the expanse, and in the stillness of the night, with only the trees whispering their secrets, I remember feeling overwhelmed. We did not spot the big cat that night, but I felt the forest grow within me.
Another memorable incident would be when we finally got to spot the tokay gecko in Nagaland.
I never thought I’d be fascinated by the beauty of a lizard, enough to delve deeper into a world obsessed with it.
IE: Will the stories only revolve around rangers or others too like the local villagers for example who live in the vicinity of national parks?
Sonali: Though symbolically titled ‘Ranger Ranger’, our stories span across all different roles and duties, be it a forest guard, a range officer, village communities involved in conservation initiatives, vets or volunteers. To get a complete picture, we want to learn from all different characters in all different topographies.
IE: Are you working on any other interesting project you would want are readers to know about?
Sonali: At the moment, Ranger Ranger takes complete focus, but as a climate and science reporter, I do write on a range of topics. You can have a look here – http://www.sonaliprasad.net/storiesandprojects/
One project that might be of interest to you- I am working on an ambitious and collaborative project with a team comprising of Stanford engineers and Columbia journalists, to develop algorithms that can help monitor coral reef health data using crowd sourced underwater images. You can read about it here- https://brown.columbia.edu/portfolio/reefsource/
India’s Endangered will soon share excerpts from the Ranger ranger stories here on this page. Do make sure to read! You can also visit http://mukha.co/ranger-ranger for the published stories.
For on-ground reporting updates, follow @sonaliprasad07 and @mukhaco
You can also sign up for updates via their newsletter – http://mukha.co/ranger-ranger/sign-up
Featured image by Indrajeet Rajkhowa