Written by Alok Pandey (With inputs from Sanjay Chakraborty) | Updated: September 29, 2015
MANAS NATIONAL PARK, ASSAM: A poacher turned wildlife defender is leading the way for conservation of the endangered one horned rhino at Assam’s Manas National Park. His efforts have won hearts and awards over the last decade, the latest being the Sanctuary Asia Wildlife Service Award.
From helping poachers kill the endangered rhinos, to devoting all his time to serving them, it has been an amazing turnaround. For the 40-year-old Maheshwar Basumatary, fondly called Ontai, the National Park has been home for the last eight years.
Around 1995, Mr Basumatary started as a poacher at the age of 19, risking his life and confronting the same guards he helps today. At the time, there was insurgency in lower Assam, and he had absolutely nothing to turn to, for supporting his seven member family.
“One night in my dreams God appeared and asked me to stop, so I stopped, it took me two years. Then a joined a local NGO. I feel very bad about having killed the animals. Now I feel I am doing something for them”, says Mr Basumatary.
He is now an animal keeper with the Wildlife Trust of India’s Greater Manas Conservation Project. The Manas Park is one of the two parks, that is home to the endangered one horned rhino, targeted by poachers for their horn which is lucrative in the international grey trade for its supposed medicinal properties
The numbers of such rhinos are dwindling fast across the world, but Assam has seen success in the last few years, by actually increasing their presence in the parks. Since 2008, Mr Basumatary has helped catch a number of poachers, seize illegal products, and helped out with wildlife surveys in the areas
Director of the Manas National Park, Hiranya Sarma says, “He is helping us to track poacher activity, he is very dedicated. Ontai means Rock and he actually is like one. We are using his example to motivate other poachers to mend their ways.”