Kohima: Seventeen years ago, Rüvuotuo Belho set up a safe sanctuary for birds and animals near state capital Kohima in Nagaland and called it R Belho Wildlife Breeding Home. Today, the 63-year-old animal lover’s ‘breeding home’ has become a ‘mini zoo’ of sorts, hosting a wide variety of wildlife species ranging from hornbills to porcupines.
Located at Gasie, just below High School Junction in Kohima and barely 3 km from the busy hub of Kohima town, the ‘mini zoo’ greets visitors with the relaxing sound of birds chirping and singing as they fly over the wildlife haven.
Speaking with EastMojo, Belho recalled how he began the initiative. “I loved hunting and I used to go to Assam for it… What changed forever was that one evening when I went hunting around Dzü-ü river (north of Kohima) and managed to shoot a unique bird. As I returned, I felt very emotional. That was the last time I saw the species of that bird and so I decided not to hunt birds anymore. Instead, I began to rear birds and animals of all kinds,” he said.
“By 2002, I brought them [birds and animals] down to this place [R Belho Wildlife Breeding Home] and began to rear them…. I still go hunting but now I go hunting [shooting] — not with guns but with camera. So, I go hunting every year, especially towards Peren (district). I also believe that humans must begin to care of animals,” he added.
Almost two decades on, Belho continues to run the wildlife breeding home without any governmental aid. When asked about how he manages to do so, he said that he is himself surprised. He often buys food on credit, only to pay later.
Belho is blessed with five children — three boys and two girls. Earlier he used to dedicate his full time to the breeding home but later took up contracts, as with the increase of wildlife population, it became a challenge for him to sustain it. Currently, there are over 28 different types of wildlife including various varieties of hornbill, owls, monkeys and parrots, besides deer, leopard cats and Indian black turtles. His favourites are the hornbills and deer, and he regrets not being able to rear the ‘great hornbill’.
The 63-year-old man told EastMojo that residents often regard the wildlife breeding home as a ‘mini zoo’ as these creatures are caged. Divided into two, the deer habitat is surrounded by sheer boundary walls as the birds and other creatures live in gigantic cages — with most habitats having plants and trees giving it a mini jungle feel.
Urging the need to conserve wildlife, Belho said, “There is a need for people to realise that we must care for them.”
Belho revealed how he frees the birds into the open every year although he is uncertain of their safety outside. He then narrated how a clipped (marked) bird was shot by unknown person days after it was freed. Nonetheless, he is determined to continue spreading the message of conservation.
When asked about the safety of the creatures at the breeding home, he said: “There are some who visit because they want to care and feed. But there are still others who visit because they want to harm it and even go to the extent of stealing them… But my boys walk around, hide and keep a check.” He added that CCTVs will be installed in the area soon to avoid such practices.
Belho lamented that he was denied licence and aid by the government citing that these birds and animals are caged. Despite the challenges, Belho wishes to continue catering to these creatures till his home completes 25 years, after which he wishes to donate them to the neighbouring states, especially to Assam.
Hinting at his distrust in the state government’s facility, Belho narrated about how a bear which he donated to a zoo in Dimapur was reported dead within few months. Similar was his experience with an animal care centre in Kohima, which is why he wishes to donate them outside the state.
Talking about his choice of limiting the breeding farm to 25 years, he said that with urbanisation, human dwellings are rapidly increasing in the area making the space tight for the growing population of wildlife.
In a land where most men boasted about their hunting skills, Belho bravely chose to nurture and breed these creatures despite the doubts of people. Assisted by four of his associates, his family constantly supports his wildlife breeding home. Interestingly, the young ones of these birds and animals are adopted by people who assure him that they will take good care of them.
R Belho Wildlife Breeding Home attracts visitors mostly during the Hornbill Festival in December, as many tourists come to see the famed hornbills. With the growing need to maintain the breeding home, an entry fee of Rs 30 is charged from adults. However, he has kept it free for children and open on all Saturdays and Sundays.
Raising concern over the extinction of most birds and animals, Belho said: “Nagas, too, must care for them. That’s the greatest thing as most of the birds and animals in our land are facing extinction.”