The day, my father gave up poaching upon seeing a dying and helpless mother serow crying out for her dead calf – both killed ruthlessly by us; everything changed. Today the reason, I am a Ranger is not just because I knew my calling was in this field from a young age; it was also because my father – who is now a devout Buddhist practitioner- wanted me to become a wildlife protector which, perhaps was a small act of redemption, for he knew I also bore a share of complicity for the sins we had committed, almost two decades ago.
My journey to this unsullied biodiversity rich protected area – the Royal Manas National Park, which is also my first job placement, has been nothing less than a dream come true for me. While many foresters dreaded from going to Manas, supposedly because of the security risks and harsh climatic conditions, I always wanted to work in Manas. The beauty and the grandeur of the national park is unparalleled; some of the most breathtaking beauty that can be witnessed by man, the Royal Manas National Park boasts breathtaking landscapes, magnificent emerald rivers, pristine and diverse wildlife habitats and species abound. The sauntering of barking deer and sambar along the lush alluvial grasslands, water buffaloes frolicking in the puddle with no cares in the world, the rhythmic crooning and humming of innumerable birds, the loud trumpeting sounds of wild elephants, and the intimidating roar of the elusive and stealthy tigers from the dense jungle of Manas, if privileged to see and hear one are some of the wonders that never ceases in the RMNP. The day I got posted in Manas Range in July 2011, I knew then, the forest and wilderness of the RMNP were to be part of my life forever.
Over the last seven years in Manas, a lot of the management practices have changed and evolved: the patrolling method has made headway into a powerful wildlife enforcement and patrolling system through SMART, wildlife research and monitoring has become a salient tool for protected area management, transboundary collaboration has been reinforced through many joint conservation initiatives, and there is an increasing support from the communities towards conservation, as the park strengthened its support through livelihood and ecotourism activities ensuring there is correct balance exist between pressure and needs, conservation and enhancement, and opportunities.
The major turning point in my career as a Ranger took place in 2013, when I was assigned as one of the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) focals for our national park. The SMART is designed to improve anti-poaching efforts and overall law enforcement effectiveness in established conservation areas and management zones. Realizing the growing need for strengthening patrol efforts based on informed decisions, and for gauging the efficiency of wildlife enforcement and patrols, and site based conservation activities in the protected areas, SMART was first introduced in our national park in 2013 to all the frontline rangers by a team of expertise from Enforcement and Capacity building network under World Wildlife Fund, Bhutan Program.
The new improved patrolling system has dramatically improved the effectiveness of our wildlife patrols. SMART transformed the way I do my job. Using the SMART approach, we are able to adapt to changing conditions and make decisions about when and where to best deploy our patrols, improving efficiency in mobilization of limited park resources. The data has become a source of intelligence for me. For instance, 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 two poachers and three fishermen. Our SMART patrol results from 5 years show that the overall threat occurrence has markedly decreased given constant patrol effort, and there is an upward trend in the observation of wildlife and their indirect signs by the year, which clearly goes to show that SMART has been highly efficient in allocating patrol effort, and resources across critical areas of the national park based on strategic planning, and team synergy that enabled more effective and rapid operational responses.
What is even more exciting for the patrolling team is that we get to interact and work together with the frontline rangers of our neighboring counterpart – Indian Manas National Park – on a regular basis through synchronized SMART patrolling which was identified as one of the important conservation priorities in curbing poaching and other illegal activities in the Transboundary Manas Conservation Area (TraMCA) landscape. Before venturing out the in the field, a meeting between the patrol leaders would be held to plan on the meeting points, set spatial targets, and pass information on any threats or presence of poachers. The poachers cameras which are installed by the enforcement team in Indian Manas National Park has been a breakthrough for both the protected areas in providing real time information on the movement of poachers in the landscape. The first synchronized patrolling was a huge success. Based on the tip-off, we got from our counterpart; we marched off towards Manas East in the wee hours of the morning. The thought of scouring the suspected areas and ambushing poachers was enough of an adrenaline rush to ramp up the excitement and fun. The patrol teams from both the protected areas, that day, apprehended three Bhutanese poachers and two Indian poachers.This joint initiative has certainly empowered and strengthened my resolve including that of my field colleagues to strengthen site-based protection of our critical wildlife habitats in TraMCA landscape. Sometimes, I wonder, had SMART been there when my father and I were poaching, the rangers could have easily caught us. My life could have turned out very differently.
Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is matter of choice; I am a Ranger today not by chance but because my father and I decided to choose this noble path of protecting our ‘Mother Nature’. I continue to look forward to working in the Royal Manas National Park and dedicate my service to protecting our country´s rich natural heritage and tsa-wa-sum. I have loads of fond memories from this national park – of working together with my colleagues hand in hand, encountering wild animals and poachers, getting lost in the forests – some memories are unforgettable, remaining ever vivid and heartwarming. I know that the journey at times may be physically and mentally demanding involving many challenges:risks from getting attacked by wild animals, risk of getting into an accident, risk of encountering insurgents and poachers, and the trials and tribulations of working in the rugged terrain and harsh climatic conditions may be profound but I also know that there is nothing like the happiness and contentment you get, when you know you are making a meaningful difference in protection and conservation of wildlife and their spaces. When passion meets purpose, it becomes much more than a job, and I hope I have made my father proud.
“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 honorable task onto future generations”– Jampel Lhendup, Senior Forester/SMART Focal, Royal Manas National Park
Jampel’s article on‘The Son of a Poacher who became a Ranger- Part I’ can be viewed on the website: http://www.rangerfederationasia.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/rfa-newsletter-2016.01-hires.pdf