They say that everyone deserves a second chance. Maheshwar Basumatary is a living example of this philosophy, as he has turned from a wildlife poacher, to a wildlife protector. Poaching is a nasty industry that cruelly claims the lives of millions upon millions of wild animals each year. But, in his homeland of India, Maheshwar Basumatary discovered that it was an unfortunate economic reality. With political unrest forcing schools to close and limiting economic opportunity, many people in his village found themselves on the wrong side of the law.
Desperate to feed their families, it wasn’t hard to view wild animals as a potential source of income. He recalls “I was married at the age of 19 and was without any means to support my family. I fell into wrong company…of poachers; there was a certain demand for people like me in the market at that time, someone who had grown up in that area and knew the forests like the back of his own hand. I helped these people (poachers) into the forests and out.” Eventually, his wife found out what he was doing and left him to raise the children on his own. It wasn’t too long after that Maheshwar saw the error in his ways.
In 2005, he surrendered to the Forest Department and took a job helping to revive the depleted jungle, working with a group called Green Forest Conservation. Since then Maheshwar has excelled, using his knowledge of the land and poacher activity to protect the animals that he once hunted. The job isn’t as easy as observing animals either, he spends hours on end out in the field and has to endure all sorts of weather – and animal encounters – as well. Maheshwar does this important work with the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Wildlife Trust India.
But, despite the difficulty of his work, he says, “I love my work. Instead of hurting the animals I’m actually helping in saving them now… Not only did I save my own life – lord knows what would have happened to me if I was still a poacher – but I helped influence my son to also follow the right path and he’s also now working for wildlife conservation with the same NGO I started volunteering with all those years ago.”
It is wonderful to see that Maheshwar has made so many positive changes to his life and the life of his son, proving that second chances really do change lives.
All image source: IFAW-WTI