Lakhan Teron, 49, is a grassroot naturalist who hails from the Chakradeo village which lies sandwiched between the only Ramsar site wetland of Assam – Deepor Beel on and a fast vanishing critically forest range called Rani Garbhanga.
Teron who has no formal knowledge of ecology is the most valued resource person to the press, media, researchers, filmmakers, students and scholars of a wide ranging field from Botany to Zoology to animal welfare who have been reaching out to him for several years now, not just from northeast India but across the world.
Over the past 26 years, he has become well versed in interpreting animal behavior and has acquired knowledge of the rare medicinal and aromatic plant species in the 43.7 square km forest. A knowledge that he derived not from any college or university but which he inherited from his forefathers and through his passion for conservation observing and learning from the biologists and zoologists who visit this area.
An ordinary farmer, Teron works in the fields to look after his family of five and sustains passion which he funds solely from his earnings as a farmer. He has been instrumental in convincing residents of a number of villages both inside and on the fringes of this forest to stop poaching birds and wild animals.
Villagers of Sattargaon including women and children attending to a train hit critically injured elephant deep inside the jungles bordering Assam and Meghalaya .
Teron has been working to the best within his capacity to alert the authorities and NGOs concerned during Elephant herd movement around railway tracks. His vigilant eyes and actions have been able to save many of these gentle giants from being massacred by the steel monsters.
Trekking With Teron
It is almost impossible for any wildlife enthusiast to trek through the dense Rani reserve forest near the Assam capital without Lakhan Teron’s guidance.
Teron has been organising day long treks for students and environment enthusiasts inside the forest. He does not charge any money for these treks. Instead it is the joy that he sees in the eyes of these students which is much more rewarding than money, that is what Teron believes.
I did accompany him in several of these treks, the most enchanting being the trek that leads up to the majestic Thiopani falls cradled in the Assam-Meghalaya border deep inside the jungles.
This trek passes through Sattargaon, Assam’s last forest village on the Assam-Meghalaya border in the Rani Garbhanga forest. This odd hamlet of around 40 families holds a unique importance from the wildlife conservation point. Despite facing regular human animal conflict In the past the villagers of Sattargaon have displayed a model of compassion by their noble actions such as attending to injured elephants from train accidents and acting as a messiah in the absence of forest department or veterinary care. On reaching the village one can also request to share a meal with the villagers, listen to their wild experiences with nature, get to taste fresh brew of rice liquor that is served with love. Several young unemployed youth in this wilderness, after being inspired from Teron have volunteered to become field guides and are doing pretty well.
Field Work with Teron
Teron has been working on awareness camps assisting research scholars of Botany and Zoology from premier institutions. Many students from as far as the Delhi University, Canada, Australia and the UK have worked with him. He has been teaching the values of the local medicinal and aromatic plants to college and university students. Many a times colleges also invite him for interactions.
Teron’s love for birding draws bird enthusiasts to him who spend time with him understanding the migratory and exotic birds of this region.
In 2011, Teron accompanied and assisted world renowned herpetologist Romulus Whitaker and acclaimed wildlife cinematographer Robin Smith in 2010 for research on snakes and other reptiles. Teron also ensured that all the amphibians and reptiles that were captured for observation were later safely released back to their respective places.
The Community and Teron
A critical component of habitat conservation is education with local people living near these natural resources, as well as people who may visit nature reserves or buy items derived from reserves. Unlike some nature reserves in Assam that have been used sustainably by local people for countless generations. Deepor Beel-Rani Garbhanga forest habitat is considered to be too fragile for even minimal use.
Teron has been quite instrumental in educating the villagers and communities here in finding them alternative economic livelihood opportunities that foster and promote community and cultural pride. Everyone is encouraged to work together to better understand their natural resources and spread pride in them throughout their community .
His commitment towards the environment and sustainable use of the medicinal and aromatic plants of the area has motivated the Assam Forest Department to come up with a model medicinal plantation project right adjacent to his house. Teron says this was an initiative he was very much looking forward to as it involved the local community directly. But the lack of willpower and negligence of the department sadly is robbing this ambitious project of its basic upkeep which is in dire straits now.
Teron has tied up with a friend to supply solar lanterns at a discount and is trying to raise funds for village Sattargaon that does not have electricity. Teron says that his priority are those households which have young children, so that these students can study at night.
Livestock farming is a fact of life here and Teron is also trying to popularize the concept of animal welfare and encourage the villagers to accept it through various ways and channels. For example to pay back for the generosity of the villagers of Sattargaon in assisting a paralysed elephant that had to be euthanized eventually, Teron helped organise a free animal health check up cum vaccination camp in Sattargaon for the livestock and cattle of the community last year with the assistance from veterinarians of JBF-Guwahati an animal care organization.
Fighting a Losing Battle
The continuing greed of urban development is causing tremendous pressure to the Deepor beel- Rani Garbhanga forests. Deforestation has accelerated by many folds in this area. Massive stone/earth quarrying (both authorized by the Government and illegal ones) are bringing the hills down.
Land grabbing and constructional activities have wiped out the existing elephant corridors. The high speed broad gauge railway line that was constructed dividing the forests and the Deepor Beel have killed over 30 elephants so far. Municipal solid waste dumping by the authorities has poisoned the aquatic life of Deepor Beel and slowly choking the wetland, migratory birds are less frequenting this wetland, aquatic plants are being forced into extinction, timber, wildlife and medicinal plant smugglers are at work 24×7.
Timber smuggling using a bicycle inside Rani Garbhanga
At this rate Deepor Beel is soon going to lose the status of a Ramsar site wetland. All this and more are reasons which sadden Lakhan Teron as he continues his crusade against all odds.
Lakhan Teron can be contacted on his hand phone number: +91 9859263933
Lakhan Teron: Saving the Wild