Friday, January 14, 2011

An eye for conservation

When I met Bhadai Tharu, everything seemed usual – his way of talking, his gait and his mannerism. He didn’t have the aura of celebrity around him. He was just like one of us. I had heard about his bravery and commitment towards conservation which took me to the Khata Corridor that falls in the Bardia district of western Nepal. The corridor connects the Bardia National Park in Nepal to Katerniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary in India.

When Bhadai took off his pair of goggles, I was not only sad to see his plight but was brought to tears when I heard his story.

Bhadai rose from a landless bonded labourer to become a conservation hero in true sense. Out of his commitment towards conservation, Bhadai helped establish the Gauri Mahila Community Forest User Group in 1998 and became its chairman in 2002.

It was a sad day in 2004 which tested his dedication and made him a self-made figure in conservation. He had been inside the Bardia National Park to collect grass for thatching. The national park permits the local communities to collect grass from the park once a year. It is called “kharkhadai” and most of the households take this as a chance to collect enough grass to thatch their huts for the year round. Bhadai did not have a slightest inkling that a maneater could be prowling around the tall and dense grass. All of sudden, the tiger pounced on him with full might. Hearing the loud roar of the cat, others nearby fled the scene and he was left on his own to fight the beast.

“I had no other way than to fight back the tiger”, recalls Bhadai. “I also returned punches and by god’s grace, it left me.”

The tiger left him after he struggled against the giant for few minutes. When the tiger left him, he was badly wounded and one of his eyes had gone. Hearing his howls and cries of pain, his friends returned and took him to the local health post. After preliminary treatment he was referred to a hospital in Kathmandu.

It took him a month to recover. However, as everybody thought, he didn’t have any grudges left against the tiger. Instead, he turned into a conservation enthusiast. Nowadays, he is the treasurer of Khata Community Forest Coordination Committee, and a respected figure in his village.

When it was time to part ways, he started singing a song of conservation. He has a melodious voice and the lyrics composed by him talked about the trees, environment, animals and the people who have grown greedy with time.

Bhadai was awarded the Abraham Conservation Award in 2004 in recognition to his contribution to conservation. With continued efforts from people like Bhadai, the Khata Corridor is functional and wildlife numbers are increasing in the area.

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