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Award for game-watcher

- Sunil Sarkar recognised for his services at Manas

Jorhat, May 27: He has seen insurgency at its peak at Manas National Park, witnessed animals being slaughtered. When he and his colleagues tried to tackle poachers and timber smugglers, they faced their ire, as the latter retaliated by burning and destroying down forest camps, where they stay.

Meet Sunil Sarkar, a game-watcher at Manas National Park, who was awarded the prestigious Hem Chand Mahindra Wildlife Foundation & Save Us Wildlife Warrior Awards at a function held at Ranthambore National Park a few days back for his outstanding contribution to protecting wildlife at the national park.

The award — Rs 50,000 in cash and a citation — is a tribute to lesser-known heroes associated with wildlife protection and conservation in the country, especially the frontline staff. It was instituted not only to honour these brave personalities but also to address issues they face, almost daily, in the course of their work.

Sunil has been serving at Manas for over 30 years. He was picked up by the forest officials at a tender age to provide service at the national park. Sunil, park officials said, had swam the 22km stretch of Beki river from Mathanguri to Bansbari and his courage had impressed the forest officials then, who enrolled him as a game watcher in 1986. Since then he has been engaged in protecting the wildlife at Manas, which is facing a difficult situation, mainly because of insurgency and related violence in the BTAD.

Sunil has since then served in difficult areas such as Kapurpora, Sidajhar, Rabang and now Bura Burijhar camps of Bansbari range at Manas.

Bhaskar Choudhury, a senior Wildlife Trust of India official who has been serving at Manas since several years now, told The Telegraph that Sunil, more fondly known as Sania Sarkar, is a dedicated game watcher at the national park.

“He is a person who has compassion for wildlife and work with dedication. He has seen bad days at Manas but nothing has deterred him in discharging his duty,” Choudhury said.

He said such has been Sunil’s love for animals at Manas that he still buys salt from his pocket money to feed animals like rhinos, elephants and sambar.

A park official said Sunil is an old hand at Manas and knows the park like the palm of his hand. “His brother too has served at the park but had retired long back. It is because of workers like Sunil that conservation at Manas is possible,” he said.

The official said Sunil has seen the worst days at Manas when insurgency was at its peak and animals, especially the rhinos and elephants, were killed but he had not lost hope and continued with his good work.

After the initial glorious years, Manas was under siege by insurgency through the late 1980s and the 90s. Reports claimed that the entire rhino population at the park was wiped out, elephants, tigers and other wildlife slaughtered ruthlessly, forest camps were burnt, foresters killed. The insurgency saw the destruction of 28 camps and beat offices besides two range offices, the killing of half-a-dozen staff of various ranks, including a ranger, and several domestic elephants, looting of arms and ammunition, destruction of infrastructure including roads, bridges, among others.

“There are many forest guards at Manas who have served during these terrible times, and tried to protect its fast-declining wildlife and Sunil is one of them. Manas recovered, but continued to be very vulnerable and in such conditions, recognition of the staff will go a long way in boosting their morale, and motivating them,” the official said.