Think Green: Dr. Bibhab Talukdar

    By Rashmi Bora Das

    The light of dawn has not yet spread around the sleepy city. The homes of all residents in Samanwoy Path, Beltola, Guwahati are enveloped in darkness save a lone house where a young man gets ready to go on an important mission to protect the environment. For more than two and a half decades, there have been several such mornings for Bibhab Talukdar: numerous trips to forests and sanctuaries, tiring days, exhausting nights, and challenges and struggles to achieve his milestones. The sweat and toil have yielded fruitful results, and Bibhab today at 46 stands straight and tall as a shining icon, leading with pride and dignity a scientific, frontline environmental organization of India.

    The Man, His Mission, and Aaranyak:

    The story dates back to 1989 when Bibhab, with a few others, started a nature club Aaranyak in the premises of his home. The first project that he embarked on was to protect the white winged wood-duck (locally called Deo Hah) from extinction. A rare breed, this species of the bird found in the Dibru-Saikhowa sanctuary was at the mercy of poachers who on the pretext of cutting grass hunted the birds down. Sensing the gross violation of India's Wildlife and Forest Protection Acts, Bibhab filed a petition requesting the State government to uphold its constitutional duty of protecting the wild life of the region. The verdict was in favor of Aaranyak. From that point onwards, there was no looking back.

    The success of his maiden project inspired Bibhab to take bigger strides and venture into more challenging arenas along the path. From a club that met every Sunday with local youths to discuss issues regarding the environment, Aaranyak over the years has graduated into an organization that addresses a wide spectrum of issues in its domain (www.aaranyak.org). Currently, it is also a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) which is the world's largest conservation organization. As Secretary General of Aaranyak, Bibhab spearheads a conservation movement which strives to find solutions to problems related to climate change, deforestation, ecosystem goods and services, and loss of biodiversity. Through research, environmental education, capacity building and advocacy for legal and policy reform, Aaranyak aims to usher a new era of ecological security.

    Nurturing and safeguarding the environment is an inseparable part of Bibhab's existence. A PhD in Zoology, he has numerous scientific publications on environment and wildlife to his credit. He has had extensive training in the field of conservation both in India and abroad. Bibhab is extremely privileged to have attended seminars and conferences and participated in training sessions organized by very prestigious international institutions that are committed to protecting the environment and promoting ecological balance. These include the International Center for Conservation Education in UK, The Smithsonian Institute, The Academy for Educational Development, the North American Association for Environmental Education in USA, and Kruger National Park in South Africa.

    Bibhab takes a holistic approach for the development of a sound environmental policy. He feels that it is not only the government that needs to oversee the environment. Local villages and civil societies all have a role to play. He opines that citizens need to be equally aware about the threats to the environment and the consequences of environmental destruction.

    “Nourishing Nature to Secure Our Future” is the slogan that Aaranyak sings. Over the years, it has established itself as a successful entity in the mainstream of environmental research and conservation with 28 project sites all across North East India. By maintaining databases and liaising with law enforcement agencies to conduct raids and recover wildlife materials, Aaranyak monitors the wild life crime in the Eastern Himalayas. Research and training is conducted on biodiversity and wetland assessment and monitoring with the aid of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and remote sensing tools in various attitudinal habitats. Aaranyak has formed partnerships with the neighboring countries of Nepal and Bhutan and has provided training to officials for the use of GIS technology and impact assessment. Bibhab feels that one area in which he has made remarkable progress is to assemble and create a solid group of 65 young professionals from North East India who are working full time with Aaranyak in diverse fields related to the environment. He views this achievement as one of his greatest contributions to the field of environment and wildlife.

    Rhino conservation in South and South East Asia has been one of Bibhab's pivotal areas of research since 1996. He is currently Asia Coordinator of the International Rhino Foundation (IRF). An ambitious project in Bibhab's agenda is the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 in Assam. The aim is to translocate one horned rhinos within Assam with a view to enhance rhino population and its habitat. He has been particularly working on rhino issues in and around Kaziranga National Park, Manas National Park, Orang National Park, and Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary. Bibhab has stepped outside the perimeter of his home state and through IRF has extended a helping hand to Yayasan Badak Indonesia to strengthen conservation of both the Javan and Sumatran rhinos which share the bleak distinction of being in the list of the world's most endangered rhinos.

    Completing 25 Years:

    Bibhab's contributions to the environment sector have always been acknowledged and recognized. As early as 2000, he was fortunate to have had the rare distinction of being invited to a lunch hosted in honor of then US President Bill Clinton's visit to India. Bibhab was one of those professionals who represented North East India from the environment sector for the event in New Delhi. He was conferred the honorable Ashoka Fellow in 2007. Besides being a member of IUCN's Commission on Ecosystem Management, and African Rhino Specialist Group, Bibhab since 2008 has been the Chairman of the Asian Rhino Specialist Group. He is the first person from the North East to be holding such a prestigious position in the IUCN. Bibhab also serves as a member in the governing council of Bombay Natural History Society.

    As Aaranyak celebrates its silver jubilee, Bibhab is pleasantly overwhelmed with the trophies and accolades conferred on the NGO that he has nurtured and seen growing since its infancy. He truly has reasons to rejoice. In September 2014, Aaranyak, along with World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) Pune, and Nature Conservation Society of Jharkhand, was among the four NGOs selected by the Narendra Modi government for appointment in the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL).

    A remarkable achievement: Aaranyak's project “Restoration of important habitats of Gangetic dolphins” secured the first place in an international online public voting competition organized by the European Outdoor Conservation Association. A Switzerland-based non-profit association, EOCA will be funding the project with a grant of 30,000 Euros.

    The most recent feather on the cap of Aaranyak is the conferment of the 2012 Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Purashkar by the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change for its outstanding work towards protection and overall improvement of the environment.

    The Journey Goes On:

    It has been an eventful journey for Bibhab, but he feels that he still has many more miles to go. He believes that no matter how arduous a task might be, if one thinks negatively even before stepping on the road, the drive and motivation to succeed is pushed back to the darker corners of the mind, and failure is inevitable. He is “an optimist [who] sees the opportunity in every difficulty”, as Winston Churchill once said. Sincerity, passion, persistence, and commitment are the keystones that have paved the path to Bibhab's success. Twenty-five years ago, when Bibhab set forth on his first project, he perhaps did not anticipate that his environmental excursion would lead him to travel all across the world. Bibhab's environmental sojourns cross the boundaries of his state to encompass several countries in Asia, Europe, North America, Australia, and Africa. A true globetrotter, he has visited 23 countries, with multiple trips to many. Truly is it said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Here's to wishing Bibhab a more prosperous and an even greener, brighter future!

    For more information about Aaranyak:

    In Assam, Aaranyak's major areas of concentration are Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong landscape, Manas landscape, river Brahmaputra and its tributaries, Dihing Patkai Elephant Reserve, Orang National Park, and Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary. Beyond Assam, the focus areas include Namdapha Tiger Reserve, Dihang Dibang Biosphere Reserve, and Mouling National Park in Arunachal Pradesh; Balpakram National Park and Nokrek National Park in Meghalaya; and Dampa Tiger Reserve in Mizoram. The conservation projects are geared towards protecting biodiversity in the regions through varied approaches. Aaranyak has implemented a wide range of programs:

    • Environmental Education and Capacity Building Programme (EECBP)
    • Community Based Conservation Programme (CBCP)
    • Water Climate and Hazard (WATCH) Programme
    • Wildlife Genetics Programme,
    • North East Threatened Species Conservation Programme (NETSCOPE)
    • Legal and Advocacy Programme (LAP)
    • Geo-spatial Technology Application Programme (GTAP)
    • Wildlife Health and Research Programme (WHRP)
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