GUWAHATI: Assam-based ecologist and conservation activist Bibhuti Lahkar has become the first Asian to be awarded the prestigious ‘Heritage Heroes Award’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Lahkar received the award at the IUCN’s ongoing World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii last night, an IUCN release said.
Lahkar was among five conservationists across the globe to be nominated for this year’s Heritage Heroes Award, aimed at recognising “outstanding efforts” around the world in making a difference in the conservation of World Heritage sites in challenging situations, it said.
Lahkar has been working to save the grasslands, flora and fauna of Manas National Park area for the past two decades and is currently engaged as Manas Landscape Administrator for Aaranyak, an NGO working for biodiversity conservation in northeast India.
On receiving the award, he thanked all who helped him along the way and said he felt humbled and honoured by the recognition for his work.
“Today I am delighted and honoured to get this award. I have dedicated this award to Manas World Heritage Sites and local communities living around Manas,” he said.
The ecologist has intensively studied the grasslands of Manas and is now globally recognised as an expert in the threatened flora and fauna of the Terai region along the southern foothills of the Himalayas, an Aaranyak release said.
In the early nineties, Lahkar was conducting research at
Manas when he found himself in the height of the Bodo agitation, followed by the armed struggle by Bodo insurgents when people occupied land within the Park and started rampant timber collection and poaching in the protected area.
As a consequence, Manas was listed as a World Heritage Site “in Danger” (1992-2011) and it was during this period when Lahkar formulated a vision for Manas with support from the locals.
Along with his team, Lahkar trained ex-poachers, hunters and members of local grassroot NGOs (almost 600 in number) and these poachers-turned-conservationists are now helping the forest department in patrolling and protecting the Manas National Park.
He was also instrumental in connecting Manas Wildlife Sanctuary with the Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan, which led to a system of trans-boundary wildlife monitoring and now supports management in the entire Manas natural area that spreads across India and Bhutan.
He also conducted the first GIS survey of the park and his research findings and recommendations are a critical component in the Manas Tiger Conservation Plan.