• Team MMB

Fearlessness and the Forest:

Updated: Jul 16, 2019

As Assam’s Dibru-Saikhowa National Park completes twenty years, a look at the life of Narayan Sarmah: the man who made it what it is: Narayan Sarmah, killed in 1997 by a rogue elephant, devoted his life to the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park.

Twenty-one years have passed since Narayan Sarmah was crushed to death under the feet of Gobind Singh, the rogue elephant who went on a rampage killing 29 people in an Upper Assam forest in 1998.

Just a year after he died, in 1999, the Dibru-Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary, where Sarmah was the forest ranger, was accorded the status of a National Park — the fourth in Assam to be so.

Sarmah, who dedicated his life to Dibru-Saikhowa, didn’t witness this momentous incident in its history. On the Park’s twentieth anniversary, it is difficult to find on record the contributions he made to it. But Sarmah’s life and death lives on in the memories of those who knew him.

“That man changed my outlook towards wildlife completely,” says Joynal Abedin, a hunter-turned-conservationist based in Tinsukia.
“He is an institution,” says veterinarian Dr Kushal K Sarma.

In the tragic 1998 incident, Dr Kushal, famously known as the ‘elephant-doctor’ of Assam, was leading the squad that tried to tranquillise Gobind Singh. The 55-year-old, who has tranquilised 139 rogue tuskers to date, says the episode was one of his rare failures.

In his book, Baliya Hatik’u Bolabo Paru Moi (‘I Can Tame a Rogue Elephant’), he writes: “When the elephant started chasing us, nobody fired. I later asked a forest guard, ‘Why didn’t you shoot?’ He told me that Narayan Sarmah had asked them not to. Not only had Sarmah dedicated his life to conservation of wildlife, but also made the ultimate sacrifice for it.”

Dibru-Saikhowa earned the status of a protected forest much later than other major forests of Assam like Kaziranga, Manas and Orang. It was declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 1986. It got upgraded to a biosphere reserve in 1997 before eventually being labelled a National Park in 1999.

The fearless ranger who lived and died for the forest.

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