GUWAHATI: Noted conservationist and ecologist Bibhuti Lahkar of Assam has been conferred the prestigious “Heritage Hero 2016” award by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The award was conferred on him in Hawaii on Sunday morning, according to IST. The selection of Lahkar, who is the first Asian to get the award, was based on the votes cast on IUCN’s site.
For the past 17 years, he has been working relentlessly in the Manas National Park falling under Bodoland Territorial Areas District. The park’s destruction by humans and also by militants, who had made it their haven, once made the UNESCO to downgrade it to a World Heritage Site in Danger until removing it in 2011. Lahkar is largely credited with changing the park’s fortunes.
One of the first reserves to be included under Project Tiger in 1973 and located in the Himalayan foothills, Manas is known for its rare and endangered wildlife such as tiger, one-horned rhino, swamp deer, Assam roofed turtle, golden langur and pygmy hog.
Lahkar’s life with Manas began in 1999 as part of his PhD research. His focus was on the management of its grasslands, flora and fauna with special reference to pygmy hog, which is found nowhere in the world.
His work made him to move around the park. Villagers living on its fringes were suspicious of strangers but he built rapport not only with them but also with forest personnel. He realized that the conservation initiatives would go in vain unless the locals were involved in the process. So, he prepared a roadmap for them to bring about positive changes on the ground.
“What satisfies me the most is that I was able to educate and motivate the villagers, most of who are illiterate, how to monitor and protect wildlife and vegetation,” Lahkar had said recently. Some 100 youths, whom he had motivated, are today supporting their families through engagement in ecotourism ventures.
In 2013, Lahkar supervised the installation of a 14-km long electric fence. It was installed to protect some 1,000 families from elephant depredation in a buffer zone of the park. Since then, no human or elephant casualty has been reported.