Written by: Jampel Lhendup (Forester, Royal Manas National Park, Bhutan)
As a son of poacher, I grew up with wildlife products. I accompanied my father when he went hunting from the age of five, where he taught me how to identify different tracks and signs of wildlife, and how to set snares and traps. He trained me in the ground of hunting perfectly. My whole family were surrounded by it; from my six siblings to my grandpa, who accidently killed his own brother whilst hunting when he shot without confirming the target. He spent the rest of his life in jail.
On several occasions we were chased by rangers but they could not catch us. I don’t know whether it’s because my father and I were good hunters, or because the rangers were inadequately trained. They used to come to my home sometimes and say that they could not catch the poachers. It made me question things.
Then one day whilst out hunting, everything changed. There was a female serow with calf. On sensing our presence, the mother serow gave an alarm call and ran away. We shot the calf. When we approached, the mother serow was staring at her calf dying helplessly. She ran away again upon seeing us. However, when we picked up the calf to carry it away, the mother serow followed us. So we shot the mother too, without mercy. She dropped down on the spot. As we approached her, I was horrified to see that she was looking at us and shedding tears. Despite the unbearable pain she looked in the direction of her calf and called once. Blood oozed out of her eyes and mouth. Then she became motionless forever.
I saw tears rolling from the cheeks of my father. On reaching home he said we were not to eat the meat. We dried it and took it to the nearest temple, where we prayed for the wellbeing of all sentient beings. The meat was given for gathering in annual rituals at that temple. My father wanted me to stand on my feet and beg for forgiveness for the animals that we killed. He started chanting prayer. I was nine years old at the time and he sent me to school with the message of not harming animals.
After studying until the 12th standard, I joined a Ranger Training Institute with the hope of fulfilling my father’s message. In July 2011, I completed the training and joined Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan. I am still here to this day. My job is to do patrolling, and I go on regular patrols with my senior friends.
One time I was assigned to border patrolling. The only map available was really old – created in 1972 – and we had to search for a border pillar that marked where India’s part of the reserve began. We were deep in the forest busy searching for the marker, and signs of encroachment, when one of the rangers encountered an elephant. He shouted and ran away. Everybody followed him whilst I was still struggling to figure out where the elephant was. By the time I saw it running in the other direction, I could no longer see or hear the other rangers. I was new and completely lost. I shouted and there was no response. I cried in a deep forest because I felt totally blind.
Over time, I began to realise something was not working with our patrolling system. We did regular patrolling and we could not arrest any poachers. Our patrolling did not have a clear objective. There was not even basic information on the protected area like what the threats were, where they were and how many there were. There was no system to store and analyse this information. Then in February 2013, I heard that a new system of patrolling was coming. Excitingly, I was selected for training and the trainer was a young and energetic man like me. His name was Mr. Rohit Singh.
I learnt that the new system was called the SMART Patrolling System. The “SMART” stood for Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool. Rohit explained all the functions of the software and the way of doing things with the SMART system. I was delighted; finally something had the capacity to give me all the information I wanted. SMART transformed the way I do my job. Now I can play with software and I have basic data. It gives me information on the protected area. It has made my patrolling objective clear and every individual ranger’s work is being tracked by this system. The data has become a source of intelligence for me. For example, the SMART patrol report for March 2015 showed threats in certain points of the park. We patrolled those areas and within two days, we arrested three poachers and three illegal fishermen.
I really, REALLY love SMART. And sometimes I’m very grateful… because if this system was there when my father and I were poaching, the rangers could have easily caught us. My life could have turned out very differently.
I can’t thank Mr. Rohit Singh enough for helping me to fulfill my father’s dream. I also have an important message for the wildlife whose lives were sacrificed for my growth:
Don’t have bad feelings against me because my forefathers killed without knowing the value of you, as an individual on our mother Earth. Forgive me. Now I am protecting your children. I will continue to give protection throughout my life and when the time comes, pass this honourable task onto future generations.