Long before the state government recognised the urgency of saving and preserving Olive Ridley turtles, a young man living in Puri’s Gundabala village started a one-man mission to protect them. His painstaking efforts have now been recognised by the government with his getting the Biju Patnaik Award for Wildlife Conservation 2019.
Bichitrananda Biswal, 37, fondly called Bichi Bhai was in Class 8, way back in 1996 when he noticed dead turtles on the sea shore. There were 2000 of them. He took it upon himself to relocate the vulnerable turtle eggs to nearby hatcheries, helped release young ones into the sea, organised beach clean-up initiatives and even spread the word around.
When the number of dead turtles showing up on the shore reduced to 500, he was somewhat sure that he has achieved what he had set out to.
Initially, there was no help from the Forest Department. Gradually, he was able to engage the Department towards this cause. They started monitoring and patrolling the beach.
Turtle eggs are considered a delicacy by humans and a source of food for dogs. Once hatched, the offspring are attacked by wild boars, kites, crows and hyenas. Only one in a thousand hatchlings makes it to adulthood. These factors have earned the Olive Ridley species a place in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List. It is currently listed as a vulnerable species.
Turtles feed on jelly fish and keep their population in check. Otherwise, a jellyfish would feed endlessly on fish eggs and larvae, hampering the livelihood of fishermen. This point offered logical explanation to the villagers and they were all motivated to work with vigour towards Bichi Bhai’s cause.
Even a 30 per cent paralysis could not stop Bichi Bhai from his relentless efforts. He is now better after regular physiotherapy. He has also rescued and released more than 2000 snakes till date. His efforts towards conservation of mangrove and house sparrow is remarkable. He has built 54 artificial sparrow nests in Pentakota and the coastal villages of Astaranga. His current focus is seed ball-making to restore the green cover of Odisha post-Cyclone Fani and making cloth and paper bags.
Such is his dedication to his cause that Bichi Bhai has decided never to get married to enable him serve the “second avatar of Lord Vishnu”.
No wonder he is called the “Turtle Man of India”