GUWAHATI, May 30 � At the time when the Manas National Park is enduring a difficult phase, here is a reason to cheer! As a special case, Sunil Sarkar, a Game Watcher, has been awarded the prestigious Hem Chand Mahindra Wildlife Foundation and Saevus Wildlife Warriors Awards 2013.
The awards were presented at a function attended by several dignitaries at the Ranthambore National Park on May 23.
The Manas National Park, following a prolonged traumatic period marked by insurgency and social unrest in lower Assam during the 1990s, has somewhat recovered today, but continues to be very vulnerable to poaching, and insurgency, too, persists. Conservationists believe that in such a situation, recognition of the services rendered by the Park staff goes a long way in boosting their morale.
Game Watcher Sunil Sarkar is one such frontline staff who has served in Manas for over 30 years. �Sanil� Sarkar, as he is fondly called by his colleagues, is a classic case of old-school forest management, when semi-literate young boys showing signs of courage were picked up by government officials to work in remote forest locations.
�Sanil� does not remember his actual age, but as a young lad (perhaps 14 years), he impressed the then Park director when he swam the 22-km length of the Beki river from Mathanguri to Bansbari! He was a small-time hunter, but was motivated both by the Park director and the then Ranger to join as a Watcher and serve wildlife. He was enrolled as a Game Watcher in 1986, and since then, has been an asset to the Park.
He has since served in difficult areas such as Kapurpora, Sidajhar, Rabang and now Bura-burijhar camps of Bansbari Range.
�He may not know how to use a mobile phone, but clearly remembers his lessons of using salt as a tool for wildlife management. Today, visitors throng his dilapidated camp, which is the hub of wild elephants, gaur and other mega herbivores. Apart from game viewing, he is sure to tell the visitors endless anecdotes and stories from the bygone era,� Sonali Ghosh, Deputy Director of Manas, says.
He is reticent about the days of insurgency, but he has served in various chowkis trying to protect wildlife � sometimes standing as a lone guard over his turf.
The wildlife � elephants, sambars, etc � which he recalls, used to gather around the chowki, perhaps they felt safer there. The staff used to give them salt from their rations (and it was never sufficient, he says!).
�For months, he would have no communication with his family � that was the fate of most of the staff there, as communication systems had failed,� says Ghosh.
Sarkar has faced insurgents and seen colleagues and Park elephants being gunned down during his tenure. When they tried to tackle poachers, timber smugglers, etc, the Park staff had to face their ire as the latter retaliated by burning and destroying down chowkis and forest camps.