Despite fallen prey to tiger, Bhadai's love for big cats grows by leaps and bounds

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Kathmandu - Menaka Chaudhary Bhadai Tharu at Khata Gaun in Madhuban Municipality in Banke district lost his right eye to a conflict with a tiger 16 years ago at Gauri Community Forest in the locality while he was on a patrol. Bhadai, who was the chairperson of the same forest's Community Forest User Group, had gone to the forest to keep an eye on poachers and protect the wild animals from them.

It was when the Bardia National Park had permitted the people to cut grass and collect fodder inside the park area. In the fight that nearly cost Bhadai his life, the big cat went back into woods after attacking him and leaving him bed-ridden in the Hospital for nearly three months.

Then followed a yearlong confinement and putting up with insult by neighbours and fellow villagers Much to his dismay, he could not a venture out to work due to his sight (vision) issue and frail health which shrunk his family resources and income to look after him as well as fend off his family. Although the tiger attacked at him and nearly took his life, Bhadai did not have vendetta against the big cats. Instead, surprisingly, his love for big cats continued to grow by leaps and bounds.

He passionately pursued tiger conservation efforts, earning him accolades from conservation luminaries and conservationists both at home and abroad subsequently. One such gesture of appreciation was given to Bhadai by Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio of Titanic movie fame some seven years ago. DiCaprio has been supporting tiger conservation cause in Terai, Nepal since 2010 joining hands with the WWF.

The American actor had spent nearly half an hour with Bhadai during which he had taken stock of the tigers in the local national parks such as Banke National Park, Bardia National Park among others and how the local community was contribution to wildlife conservation activities there. Thanks to the community driven conservation efforts and unwavering love, care and concern for tigers like Bhadai's, the number of big cats has gone up in these national Parks over the years.

The tigers' population in the Banke National Park has grown from 4 to 21 since 2013 to 2018 while Bardia National Park was home to nearly 100 wild tigers an increase from 87 recorded in the last census. The nationwide population of tigers had reached to 235 as of 2019 from 121 in 2010, according to Chief Conservation Officer at Bardia National Park, Ananath Baral.

Recalling the chance meeting with Hollywood actor and offering insights into his current affairs, the tiger conservationist gushed, "The American actor chatted with him for nearly half an hour and took picture with him. At the end, before departing he gifted Bhadai a sunglass that he was putting on to ward off the glare of the scorching sun in Terai.

But, the man in his mid fifties, bemoaned, "I am at the receiving end of mockery by relatives and neighbours.They continue to ridicule me for being one-eyed and unable to work actively unlike in the past and taking fiscal responsibilities of the house," he lamented. For him, the wild animals are like own offspring and protecting them from poachers was equally important to him.

The staunch tiger conservationist asserted, "It is our duty to protect wildlife and wild animals." Lately, the man who languished three months in hospital and a year at house has another feather in his hat. He has become a littérateur. "I have published more than 100 poems, Ghazals, in our mother tongue and published them in the local media.

All those creative juices were flowed during my hospitalization period and confinement at home thereafter." He shared that the keepsake given by DiCaprio was safe till late while he sometimes loves to don it. He vowed to keep the valued gift safe and continue with the campaign to keep tigers safe.

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National News Agency, Nepal

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