Poacher: Is Mala Jogi Inspired by a Real Forest Officer? Where is She Now?

In Prime Video’s crime drama series ‘Poacher,’ Mala is one of the principal investigators of the Malayattoor elephant poaching case. She shows commendable determination and commitment to hunt down the poachers who have been killing tens of elephants in the forests of Kerala to extract ivories from them. The officer proceeds with the investigation without any rest and puts her body on the line to ensure that the criminals behind the grievous crimes are brought to justice. The series created by Richie Mehta, who also wrote and directed the International Emmy Award-winning ‘Delhi Crime,’ is based on a true story and Mala does have a real-life counterpart!

Who is Mala Jogi?

Mala is mainly based on Manu Sathyan, the then-Thattekkad Range officer who spearheaded the Malayattoor elephant poaching case investigation. “Manu Sathyan [is] the primary inspiration for the character of Mala in ‘Poacher.’ Mala is obviously an amalgamation between a few characters but primarily [Manu], changed the gender of course,” Richie Mehta said in a conversation with Manu for the Wildlife Trust of India. Manu describes the case as a “once in a lifetime opportunity” and credits his superiors Surendra Kumar, then-Additional Principal Conservator of Forests (Vigilance) in Kerala, and Amit Mallick, the inspiration behind the character Neel Banerjee, for making him a part of the investigation.

Richie Mehta and Manu Sathyan//Image Credit: Wildlife Trust of India/YouTube

Manu also worked closely with Jose Louies, the head of the Wildlife Crime Control Division at the Wildlife Trust of India and the inspiration behind the character Alan Joseph, to bring the mafia behind the elephant poaching in the state of Kerala in India to justice. As the series portrays, Manu teamed up with Louies to analyze several call detail records to figure out how the poachers were extracting ivories and selling them. Manu had to battle a sense of guilt while he was investigating the case since, according to him, “everything happened in front of us.” The guilt became a motivation for the officer to responsibly find the culprits behind the poaching.

Mala’s commitment is outrightly based on the selflessness Manu displayed while investigating the case. “I also remember not having food for so long before one operation during night, one raid was there, and immediately after the raid, I just collapsed and I just went to bed,” he told Mehta during the same conversation. Manu visited the production sets of ‘Poacher’ and even approved the authenticity of the scenes.

Manu Sathyan is a DFO in Kerala Now

Manu Sathyan is currently working as a District/Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) in the Indian state of Kerala’s Forest and Wildlife Department. He is also in charge of the flying squad of the department’s Ernakulam, a district in Kerala, jurisdiction. He is committed to safeguarding the forests and wildlife in the state as Mala is in the series. “For the last twenty years, I am here. I am really happy. I am not at all a boring job. Every day, something different. So, if we are posted at some place and we are doing some work means, we are living with the people. The people there, many are dependent on the forest. So, the Forest Department is a big department in those areas,” he told Richie Mehta about his current life.

Manu also works as the Assistant Director of the Periyar Tiger Reserve, which is a part of the Periyar National Park, a protected area that is a repository of rare, endemic, and endangered flora and fauna, which includes Bengal tigers, white tigers, Indian giant squirrel, Nilgiri tahr, lion-tailed macaque, etc. Manu’s latest investigation concerns the reported torture of two elephants at the elephant camp in Guruvayur, Kerala, especially by mahouts who use bullhooks to control the animals. Earlier this month, Manu visited the camp and he was asked by the local court to submit a report regarding the abuse of the elephants.

Manu and Jose Louies teamed up once again to develop a wildlife crime recording digital system, which is known as the Hostile Activity Watch Kernel (HAWK). “The forest department has a good intelligence network but it is more personal than institutionalized. When officials are transferred, whatever work they have done, the data, everything is gone. The new person has to redo it and does not have the data. So, now we are trying to institutionalize the intelligence network,” he explained to Mongabay-India. Through the recording system, he aims to eliminate any sort of poaching in the state of Kerala.

“The top officials get a message every time a crime is entered; we are always updated. […] If most poaching is happening in a particular area in a particular month, one can mark that area and deploy more people for patrolling at the right time. That is how we can prevent crimes,” Manu told Rural 21. In December 2022, several years after the Malayattoor case, Aji, an alleged habitual wildlife offender, was arrested for killing a young tusker. Manu was involved in the case to “ensure that the accused get a maximum punishment that can be awarded as per the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act,” as per the Wildlife Trust of India.

In 2022, Manu also uncovered that the register of the number of sambar deer being protected at Kaprikad Mini Zoo, Kerala, was manipulated to swindle about ₹1.5 crore. He is a frequent collaborator of the Wildlife Trust of India, which played a significant role in solving the Malayattoor case.

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