BHUBANESWAR: Maheswar Mohanta is neither a botanist nor an expert in forest biology. But his contribution to the conservation of orchid species found in Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) is truly inspiring.
A forest watcher in STR, Mohanta draws his wage as a semi-skilled labourer but has helped the forest department in the identification and conservation of around 106 species of orchids in the tiger reserve.
Working in the field for over three decades, the man in his sixties is also the lone keeper of the orchidarium at Gurguria range in the tiger reserve. Mohanta couldn’t complete his Plus Two because of poor financial conditions and started working as a watcher in Similipal around three-and-a-half decades back.
Considering his educational qualification and interest in forest conservation, BC Prusty, the then field director of Similipal, engaged him in orchid conservation after which he worked in the field for the first time with Sarat Mishra, an engineer in the forest department. By 1993, Mohanta had assisted Mishra in the conservation of around 92 species of orchids in STR. When Mishra retired in 2000, it was Mohanta who kept the orchid conservation mission alive.
“As I had developed an interest in the field, it became easier for me to identify the family and species of orchids and remember their names,” Mohanta said. When senior IFS officer Anup Nayak became field director of STR in 2012, the number of orchids identified in Similipal had increased to 96. Mohanta continued his search for new species in Meghasini and other areas of the tiger reserve. Despite receiving a paltry wage, he visited different locations of the forest on his own and sometimes ventured out with the protection squad members to look for new species.
After finding an orchid, he would immediately look for the place of its presence—terrestrial or epiphytes (growing on other plants rather than rooted in soil)—and visit the Regional Plant Resource Centre (RPRC) at Bhubaneswar with the samples for identification. Doing so, Mohanta so far has helped in the identification and conservation of around 106 species of orchids. He also manages the orchidarium at Gurguria range in Similipal North. Dhaneswar, his elder son who completed his graduation, now supports Mohanta in the conservation of the orchids.