The Jungle File
Away from his desk, a bureaucrat documents the
|| SAFE KEEPER: Choudhury (second from
right) at Mizoram's Murlen National Park
A privilege that comes with being a part
of the Indian bureaucracy is the access to a vast network of people and
organisations. Not to mention the unmatched opportunity to travel to unfrequented
places in the country's hinterland. Anwaruddin Choudhury, 42, director
of tea, Assam, has both and he uses his good fortune to serve the unsung
cause of Indian wildlife. An instance: in 1996 Choudhury, on deputation
to the Kohima Municipality, saw a row of unusual items up for sale right
outside the town hall. Frogs, rats, deer, birds, a bamboo partridge, a
Chinese pangolin and a pig-tail macaque were among the wares being offered
to buyers. The women were selling the game brought home by their hunter
husbands. Appalled by the sight, Choudhury got in touch with an NGO-the
People's Group of Nagaland-and went on to convince the Town Committee
to declare a ban on the sale of wild animals in the breeding season.
It seemed strange coming from a man belonging to a family of hunters.
But Choudhury's interest in wildlife has always been of another kind.
After writing impassioned essays on the environment for his college magazine
Choudhury started writing seriously in 1977. By the early 1980s he had
embarked on a study of the Northeast's rich fauna. He wrote in the local
dailies and conducted baseline surveys in the Bordoibam Bird Sanctuary
and the East Karbi Anglong Sanctuary. "Today, with access to the
Internet, even my home is like a laboratory," says Choudhury.
To reach the masses he produced low-cost posters in various dialects
during his many postings in the outlying districts of Assam. His involvement
with different organisations also helped enlarge the scope of his efforts.
In 1995, as chief executive of the NGO Rhino Foundation for Nature, his
team discovered that the field forest staff involved in anti-poaching
activities in the Kaziranga National Park were often forced to go barefoot
to remote camps, without warm jerseys in winters and raincoats in monsoons-at
times without drinking water. This group of well-wishers furnished the
staff with basic amenities and with wireless communication facilities,
motorcycles and motorboats. The result: rhino poaching in Kaziranga has
come down from more than 25 a year till 1996 to less than 10 now.
Choudhury's travels have enabled him to act the good samaritan in other
ways too. Ten years ago he came across Sarsing Rongphar, a 50-year-old
Karbi tribal who killed wild animals and sold their flesh for a living.
Choudhury persuaded Rongphar to give up hunting and got him a job with
the Forest Department. Another interesting encounter was with the priest
of the Lumpo Gompha in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh. Some of Choudhury's
enthusiasm rubbed on Lama Pema, the priest, and today his posters adorn
the walls of the monastery. Pema, an artist himself, now paints birds
and animals to educate villagers about their surroundings.
Choudhury has to his credit some authoritative works on the wilds of
the Northeast. His comprehensive checklist on the birds (1990) and mammals
(1994) of Assam bridged a gap of almost a century since A.O. Hume and
Stuart Baker first compiled their lists. His notable field works include
surveys of the white-winged wood duck in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and
of the gaur (Indian bison) in the Northeast. He also discovered a new
crane migration route across the Mishmi Hills in Arunachal Pradesh-all
the earlier known routes were through north-western and northern India.
"I only wish more bureaucrats took advantage of the chances government
service offer of exploring and popularising the cause of Indian wildlife,"
A PhD on the primates of Assam behind him, Choudhury is currently pursuing
a Doctor of Science degree from Gauhati University. The hope of uncovering
other unexplored ecological hotspots in the north-eastern region drives
him on. "My agenda also includes Bhutan, eastern Nepal, southern
Tibet, north and western Myanmar and eastern Bangladesh," he says.
That's some project for this man on a singular mission. But his convictions,
having already brought him this far, may take him all the way.