Once a poacher, Mayong man dies protecting rhinos

Esob Ali helped save 15 Pobitora rhinos with tip-offs before gangs caught up with him

By Our Staff Reporter

Guwahati, Aug 22: More than seventeen years back, he was a dreaded rhino poacher who had kept forest guards at Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary on their toes until he was bbed in a massive crackdown.

For the last fifteen years, Md Esob Ali, a resident of Mayong in Morigaon district, has been assisting forest and police officials with vital intelligence gathering on movement of poachers, arms and ammunition. His tip-offs helped save countless rhinos in and around the pristine sanctuary - known to have the highest density of one-horned rhinos in the world.

But Esob's untiring efforts made him an enemy of poachers. He was tailed for weeks and on Thursday night, he was hacked to death by a group of six unknown men at Kukuori in Mayong.  He was rushed to the GMCH but on Saturday morning, he succumbed to his grievous injuries.

"Esob was himself a poacher during the 1990s. But in 1997-98, the then Range officer of Pabitora, Mrigen Barua persuaded poachers to leave poaching and help the park magement in protecting rhinos. During 1998, about 18 rhino poachers surrendered and Esob was one of them. After reforming himself, he never went back to poaching. Rather he assisted enforcement agencies to check poaching in and around Pabitora WLS. Some of the surrendered poachers went back to poaching again after a few years. But Esob remained loyal to rhino conservation," says secretary general of Aaranyak Bibhav Talukdar.

Talukdar and the then range officer of Pobitora Mrigen Barua were instrumental in transforming the life of Esob Ali from a dreaded poacher to a resolute protector.

"Md. Esob Ali was attacked with sharp weapons by at least five miscreants when he was returning home from Buraburi market near Pabitora. He was severely injured and admitted in the Emergency ICU at the Gauhati Medical College Hospital in critical condition. After operation, he was kept in Emergency ICU of GMCH. But in spite of all efforts, his life could not be saved," says Mrigen Barua, now an Assistant Conservator of Forest.

"He played a key role in protecting the rhinos in Pobitora. Being a poacher himself, he used to know the close-knit poaching gangs and their modus operandi," he adds.

"Esob Ali's sudden demise is a great loss to the conservation movement. He showed how a poacher could reform and continue to support conservation and protection independently. He has saved at least 10-15 rhinos in and around the sanctuary," rued Talukdar.

Sources said Esob, while being taken to GMCH, gave a statement before police ming the assailants.

Environment activists are keenly watching the government's handling of the case. "It will be a test case. Others will not come forward to emulate Esob if government does not take speedy action to bring the culprits to book," they feel.

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