Stories of Change | Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, Government of India.

Stories of Change

From poachers to protectors

July 05, 2022

Sightings of the Greater One-horned Rhino often generate excitement among the local indigenous Boro people, as locals converge to see one of Manas National Park's most iconic animals. The presence of rhinos, according to Kalicharan Basumatary, a member of the Boro community, is the conclusion of bringing back what was considered to be lost forever.

Fighting erupted in Assam in the 1990s. There were calls for the formation of a breakaway state, which resulted in a violent conflict. When the Boro people were in urgent need of food, they turned to hunting the local fauna. The Greater One-horned Rhino population experienced the brunt of this fear, as they all vanished, with the last known sighting in 2002.

Seeing the harm that was being done to the wildlife, members of the All Bodo Students' Union (ABSU) decided to take action. They realized that in order to make a long-term and significant difference for both wildlife and people, they needed to focus their efforts on the community. As a result, they founded the Manas Maozigendri Ecotourism Society (MMES) in 2003, an effort aimed at involving the community in the conservation of the land and its species. The first order of business should be to put an end to the poaching.

Student leaders like Kalicharan knew who the poachers were in their villages since they were members of the Boro community. "We compiled a list of folks who constructed their own guns and hunted with them. To encourage them to lay down their arms, we sent them letters and invited them to the ABSU office." Only a few people decided to quit poaching at first. With varied degrees of success, other meetings were organized. MMES is being pushed to try new approaches.

"To stimulate them, we went house to house and spoke to them in front of their wives and children." We inquired about their family's support for their hunts. Their spouses and siblings, on the other hand, would not. Their children, too, were opposed to their poaching operations. They eventually surrendered when their families began to support us." The ex-poachers were persuaded to put their skills to work as patrol guards, keeping out other poachers and dismantling hideouts and traps they come across while earning money. The sum was insignificant, but it was significant at a period when many people were struggling to make ends meet. A more compelling approach was required for those poachers who feared for their livelihoods. Those who continued to resist were arrested and their weapons confiscated by border guards and the Indian troops.

Stopping the poaching was only the beginning of the transformation. MMES also focused on increasing the ability and infrastructure for ecotourism, which would help the community financially. It has aided in the training of people to work as safari guides, drivers, and homestay proprietors. Boro weaving and silk workshops, organized by local self-help groups, are also part of the one-of-a-kind experience offered to eco-tourists.

"If we conserve, the number of animals will increase, and people will come to observe them," Kalicharan says. As a result of the influx of tourists, the ecotourism industry will generate revenue and job possibilities."

The Greater One-horned Rhino was also reintroduced to Manas thanks to collaborations with other local and international NGOs. "They'd brought about 30 rhinos in from the outside." The Manas Maozigendri Ecotourism Society was given the task of protecting the area. The rhino population has grown. "Now there are 48 of us here," Kalicharan grins.

MMES' conservation accomplishments have been recognized as a model that can be reproduced in other places, and Kalicharan is pleased with the community's essential role. "Manas' pride is Rhino." They were all gone at one point, but now they're back. Manas has regained his old brilliance. We're quite pleased with ourselves for being able to bring it back to life. Our children's lives should be better than ours. All of this will be feasible if Manas is preserved."

Source: Primary Research