World Nature Conservation Day is observed on July 28 to promote awareness about the importance of environmental conservation and to educate people about how to safeguard natural resources. Environmentalists, wildlife conservationists and activists in Assam have made important contributions in this regard. We are already familiar with the widely recognised works of the Forest Man of India, Jadav Payeng and the untiring efforts of Bibhab Kumar Talukdar of Aaranyak and Soumyadeep Datta of Nature’s Beckon.
This article celebrates four other nature and wildlife conservationists and their significant contributions that can inspire us to lead our way:
Rituraj Phukan is a writer and an environmental activist. Leaving his government job to follow his passion for nature, he travels extensively, writes, and teaches students about environment, wildlife, and climate change. He is the Secretary-General of the Green Guard Nature Organization, an organisation that works with communities living in forest fringe villages to find and implement long-term solutions to man-animal conflict.
Working for ‘Walk for Water’, a non-profit organisation, he spearheaded a drive to promote water conservation and universal water access, which culminated in the celebration of World Water Day 2017 in every district of India, as well as the administration of the ‘Water Pledge’ in over 100 nations across all seven continents.
The associate editor of Igniting Minds Magazine, Phukan is also a mentor and presenter of the ‘Climate Reality Project’ that focuses on climate change education. He was the only person from Assam and representation from India to accompany famed explorers Robert and Barney Swan and other dignitaries from several climate-affected regions of the world on the Climate Force Arctic Expedition 2019.
Binod ‘Dulu’ Bora
Binod ‘Dulu’ Bora is a wildlife enthusiast and a nature lover who rescues animals from captivity and rehabilitate them back to the wild. He has rescued thousands of animals including elephant calves, leopard cubs, deer, geckos, etc and over hundreds of snakes, turtles and birds. He has also planted 25,000 trees in six years.
Bora also works for improving elephant habitat, ensuring the availability of food, reduce human-elephant conflict and as well as to raise community knowledge on wildlife and habitat protection and nature conservation. He and his NGO Hatibandhu are the brains behind The Jumbo Khet (Elephant Farm) which is a unique initiative to cultivate paddy, banana, and Napier grass for elephants to feed on so as to prevent them from wandering into farmers’ fields.
He believes that humans have peacefully coexisted with elephants for many years but now forest encroachments have harmed their habitat. In 2014, he received the Wildlife Services Award from Sanctuary Asia and Conservation through Innovation Award by the Balipara Foundation.
Purnima Devi Barman
Dr Purnima Devi Barman, also known as ‘Hargila Baido’ (Stork Sister), is an environmentalist and a conservation biologist with the Assam-based NGO Aaranyak. She is the originator of the ‘Hargila Army’, a group that now has over 10,000 members including 400 local women who voice for the environment and work on Hargila (Greater Adjutant) conservation. They collectively raise awareness among local communities about the Greater Adjutant’s ecological relevance and promote environment education.
Her efforts include rescuing and rehabilitating wounded greater adjutant nestlings, building artificial breeding platforms, spearheading initiatives to integrate the scavenger bird into local villagers’ culture and customs, and raising conservation awareness, among many other things.
The population of this critically endangered species have significantly increased since Barman’s conservation initiatives began. For her tireless mobilising and conservation efforts, Barman has received the Whitley Award /Green Oscar in 2017. She has also received the President of India’s Nari Shakti Purashkar, which is India’s highest civilian award for women among other recognitions.
Manoj Gogoi, a naturalist and avid bird watcher, is credited with rescuing around 5000 orphaned and injured wild creatures in Kaziranga National Park including deer, wild boar, leopard, macaque, etc. This tourist-guide-turned-animal-rescuer established the Naturalist for Rehabilitation of Snakes and Birds (NRSB) organization in 2008. Over 100 young people from the communities surrounding Kaziranga now work with him.
To recreate their natural habitat, he planted fruiting trees, dug small water bodies, built enclosures, and made a little refuge for his recovering wild wards in a bleak stretch of ground. He also organises naturalist training camps for community awareness and sensitization on a regular basis, and each week he leads nature treks for the kids in his neighbourhood.
The Corbett Foundation (TCF) gave Manoj a boost in 2013 and also awarded him the title of ‘Wildlife Warrior’ in 2014. As a member, he continues to work for them. He won the coveted India Star Passion Award 2019 for social service in 2019. He was also the subject of two documentary films made by wildlife filmmaker Vijay Bedi and young director Dhritiman Kakati.
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