By Pransu Raj Kaushik
There are different categories of activists- some are selfless and voluntary in their activism, while others love to do the act of activism for the sake of earning their ‘minute of fame’ in the arc-lights. Manoj Gogoi of Kaziranga, who is a selfless wildlife rescue and rehabilitation volunteer, fits the bill of the former.
Born to Juram and Rupa Gogoi of Bochagaon village-Kaziranga, on January4, 1975, Manoj obtained his school leaving certificate from Kohora tiol Park High School in the year 1992. Being someone known to be of a free spirited ture right from his childhood years, the confines of college education could not hold him and so he dropped out of his academic pursuits without even bothering to complete his Higher Secondary education. After opting out of college, Manoj started working as a gypsy driver-cum-tourist guide ferrying tourists inside the tiol Park.
The year 2005 brought about a huge turning point in his life. During one such safari trip inside the sanctuary, he saw a person deeply engrossed in a book which had attractive pictures of birds in it. Trying to glance furtively at the contents, Manoj was taken aback when the stranger curtly asked him as to what was he trying to see. Manoj replied that he was looking at the pictures as he had found those to be very attractive. At this rather sheepish answer of his, the person introduced himself to be a researcher from Bombay tural History Society (BNHS) who was visiting Kaziranga to study raptors. He further asked Manoj if he had any interest in birds and could he help guide him inside the sanctuary during his field visits. Expressing keenness, Manoj unhesitatingly agreed to accompany the researcher during his stay at the Park and also thanked him for the offer. The researcher was Ashok Verma.
From the following day onwards, Manoj accompanied the researcher on his field trips inside the sanctuary. Verma gave him a pair of binoculars to use and also taught him on the correct usage of binocular angles and about the intricacies of bird watching. Manoj said that Ashok Verma was the person who catalyzed his love for wildlife towards practically understanding and learning about them and also about the benefits of being patient and attentive to detail. He further claims to have crisscrossed almost the entire sanctuary during these field trips with Verma and to have visited all the beels inside the park.
Manoj married his childhood love Kashmiri Saikia Gogoi in the year 2005 and found employment as a tourist guide in the reputed resort- IORA in the year 2007. He further continued studying birds with the help of a pair of binoculars gifted by the then forest ranger of Central Range, Kaziranga, Dharanidhar Boro.
In 2006, Manoj decided to travel to Mumbai to honour the constant invitations that he had been receiving from Manoj Verma. He kept his visit plans a secret from his family and told them about it just three days prior to leaving. “I had not visited any place outside Assam and the only city that I had seen was Guwahati. So, God knows how I got the strength to decide on visiting Mumbai with only Rs 3,000 with me,” said Manoj.
In Mumbai he was hosted by Girish Jathar, a scientist with BNHS, as Ashok Verma was uvailable. After spending a month there, he returned home an inspired man. Armed with a reference book on birds gifted by Jathar, Manoj honed his skills further to be a self-trained expert on the various bird species that visited Kazairanga. He said, “It was during those days that I was struck with regret for not completing my education. But was somewhat motivated by the fact I was able to compensate this deficiency with my practical and observatory habits.”
He mentions about an incident which inspired him to set up a voluntary organization for the rescue and rehabilitation of not only birds and wildlife, but also to work for the uplift of the villagers residing in the neighbourhood of Kaziranga. He says, “I remember that it was an early Sunday morning when I saw some villagers dragging a python with a noose tied around its neck and beating it. On asking them about the reason for this cruel reaction, someone replied that it had consumed his poultry.” Manoj pleaded with them to hand over the reptile to him and after much persuasion they did that. This was to be the first of the thousands of animal rescues that Manoj has conducted till date.
With a motley group of enthusiastic volunteers, Manoj formed the turalist for Rehabilitation of Skes and Birds (NRSB) on August 8, 2008. Since then the organization has been dedicating all its strength towards rescue and rehabilitation of wildlife without any outside funding. The group volunteers have rescued many animals and Manoj especially, is a much sought after person among the local populace whenever any ske is sighted. The longest ske that Manoj helped catch and rescue was a 14- feet long king cobra. He said, “We concentrate on rescuing wildlife that stray and get trapped in the residential areas and that makes it even more challenging. It is very difficult and dangerous to handle a poisonous ske in a confined and congested room. We are lucky that no fatal accident has occurred till date.” NRSB also conducts regular awareness-cum-boot and educatiol training camps for the underprivileged children of the villagers.
A student group from University of Delaware, United States, had spent some days with them learning about wildlife conservation as well. Recognizing his efforts, the Director of Corbett Foundation, Kedar Gore offered him a job, which Manoj accepted with the precondition that he would not be prevented from continuing with his voluntary activities. His association with the Corbett Foundation has since opened up various avenues for Manoj and he has got many opportunities to share his experiences in a number of semirs and awareness camps.
He was also a part of a television documentary by wildlife film makers- Ajay and Vijay Bedi, which was aired on Animal Planet and Discovery Channel. In 2014, the Corbett Foundation awarded him with the title – ‘Wildlife Warrior’. This relentless wildlife activist and dotting father of a lovely girl, Bhumistha Gogoi, said, “We need more citizen warriors to conserve ture. It is the duty of not only the forest department but of all of us to work towards preventing animal poaching and deforestation.” Summing up his future plans Manoj said that he wanted to establish a ske park and a rescue centre.
The story of Manoj Gogoi is one of true persol grit and determition. He proves that by the sheer dint of dedicated observation, one can be an expert in a specialized field like wildlife rescue and rehabilitation. This is an inspiring real life tale for all of us; we need to ignite the passive ‘Manoj Gogoi’ that is inherent in our inner self as true satisfaction lies in being the change rather than watching change happen from afar.