Tiger Man: A Life for an Eye

August 15, 2013 , by Richa Bhattarai, Leave your thoughts
Tiger Man: A Life for an Eye » My Dreams Mag

For conservationists trying to maintain a delicate balance between saving wildlife and protecting the community, human-wildlife conflict is a real challenge. In fact, it is the second biggest challenge after poaching. Elephants, rhinos, tigers and wild boars often enter villages adjacent to national parks and wildlife reserves, sometimes causing great loss to human life and property. However, conservationists are tirelessly working to address this issue, moving on from traditional drums, range posts and watch towers to technological advancements such as trenches, surveillance cameras and electric fencing. 

e were being taken on a royal ride through the roads of Bardia on a bullock-cart, our destination being Dalla, the first home-stay in the district. It was then, in our cart, that I caught sight of Bhadai Tharu — the amazing tiger man who is a living example of the joys and dangers of conservation.
There was nothing extraordinary about him, nothing that hinted at him being an exemplary conservationist. He was strong, certainly. I could see it in his sinewy muscles and stocky frame. But his willpower and strength of heart turned out to be much more remarkable. As he nudged his stylish shades up his nose and began his tale, he left us all mesmerized.


In the blink of an eye Mornings do not always show the day. Or at least they did not for Bhadai Tharu, as he went about his duties as Chairperson of Gauri Community Forest User Group (CFUG). That unremarkable day in mid-winter of 2004, the villagers were busy harvesting khar (dried grass for thatching roofs), and Tharu was supervising them. Little did he know that a tigress lay in the midst of the grass, threatened by the commotion all around. As she sensed a human being walking too close for comfort, the tigress pounced at Tharu, crushing him under her powerful paws. That first moment, I felt nothing at all. The shock was greater than being hit by a blacksmith’s hammer,” Tharu recounted, “The tigress forced me onto the ground, and I thought I was dead for sure. But then something within me decided to put up a fight, so I hit back at the tigress with my elbow, and punched her. After a mighty tussle, she ran away.” Blood streaming from his eyes, Tharu then crawled out into the open. Almost 200 villagers had already disappeared to safety, but the few remaining ones scared away the tigress and carried him on their shoulders to the hospital. Referred from one hospital to another, Tharu ended up losing his left eye, as the nerves were already severed. Any ordinary person would have gone to pieces at such a plight, but Tharu gathered all his strength to last him through the months ahead. “I had immense difficulties for the next few years,” he reminisced, “Pus and tears kept leaking out of my eye and I could not keep it open after a while.”Tharu underwent re-constructive and plastic surgery, but his eye was never the same again.


Roaring to go Tiger-Roar

Yet, after his harrowing experience, Tharu bears absolutely no rancor towards tigers or wildlife. “I could have lost my eye anywhere, even while just walking down the street,” he explained his logic, “It was not the fault of the tigress, who was only roaming around her home. For her, we were the intruders. I am especially interested in saving tigers, which are heading towards extinction due to human greed.” That also explained the answer he gave to a British actress who filmed a documentary on him. When she asked him what he wanted to be in his next life, he answered, “I want to be a tiger, the king of the jungle! And in this life, all I want to do is create a safer haven for them.”Impressed, she noted, “I have seen people who will retaliate if a tiger eats their goat. And here you are, conserving them even when they have taken away an important part of your life.” Tharu is so passionate about his calling that he composes songs on conservation and sensitizes the mass everywhere he travels. He is especially sensitive about the Khata corridor, which connects the Bardia National Park in Nepal to Katerniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary in India — the most significant linkage between the wildlife of the two countries. This being an extremely vulnerable corridor, WWF Nepal began working towards its extensive restoration and conservation in 2001. The corridor was threatened by the complete dependence of locals on the forests for food, fodder and firewood. And they were not to blame either, for they had no access to other resources. The corridor was so eroded that it was under threat of breaking off. Addressing this problem head on, WWF Nepal raised mass awareness and sensitized locals about the concept of community forestry. When the locals realized that they would benefit only if the forests and wildlife flourished, they began taking an active part in the conservation, among which Tharu turned out to be a sterling example. He elaborated, “Just as humans travel for love and marriage, wildlife like to roam around and choose their mates, too.” That evening, as it drizzled beautifully outside, we were welcomed by the Dalla home-stay community, also a WWF Nepal initiative, and then treated to one of Tharu’s songs. The song we heard went like this:

Let us maintain the greenery of our Khata Wildlife Corridor

The wild animals that walk there, let us not hinder…

  Not out of sight Tharu’s empathy for wildlife could stem from the struggles he faced. He estimates his age to be 47, though he looks almost half that much. His early years were spent as a kamaiya (bonded laborer) in the houses of the affluent households in the village. With no property to call his own, he has found solace in his role of protector and savior. He is actively involved as executive member in the Khata Community Forest Coordination Community. “I go out and talk to other people who have lost their livestock or property to wild animals,” he said, “They pay heed to me because I have lost so much more than them, and yet am insistent on the need to co-exist harmoniously with wildlife.”Tharu cites examples from our myths, which revere animals and birds as deities to be worshiped. This stoic conservationist’s efforts have also made him a star in the eyes of the international community. Having been felicitated by the prestigious Abraham Conservation award in 2004 for his dedication to conservation, he was also featured in a documentary that recounted his ordeal. Besides, he is one of the key personnel in a documentary that imparts knowledge on tiger conservation. Thankful of his journey so far, Tharu said, “It is the act of conservation that has brought us all together, taught us about the value of other beings, and brought me recognition, appreciation, and a purpose to life.”



One of his supporters in this endeavour was Leonardo DiCaprio, on a short visit to Nepal to observe conservation and livelihood activities. “I did not know such a famous actor would be visiting us,” said Tharu, “It was all quite hush-hush, we were just told someone important would be there.” DiCaprio ended up spending a long time with the conservationist. “We talked about my past, and then he told me he had heard a lot about me and seen my pictures. It was one of the proudest moments of my life, as I recognized him as the hero from Titanic, the one with the girl on the boat.” Tharu added. DiCaprio not only praised Tharu, he also took off his own sunglasses and perched them on the former’s nose. And these were the very shades that Tharu donned when we met him the first time, the shades that showed he was someone special, that told him he was on the right path, and have been a symbol of hope for conservationists worldwide ever since.

Bhadai II

Bhadai Tharu © WWF Nepal, Hariyo Ban Program/ Pallavi Dhakal.

*** Image Sources: Shutterstock and Pallavi Dhakal, WWF Nepal

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