Visiting the serene beaches has been a routine affair for Bichitranand Biswal since childhood. Hailing from a remote village in Odisha called Gundabala, his home was barely 100 metres away from the seashore and it often drew him to the beach. During one of such visits, he was devastated to find dead ridley turtles on the beach, nearly 2000 in number. The horrific sight of dead turtles pained him to the core and since that day there has been no turning back for him. Since 1996, Bichitranand Biswal, popularly known as Bichi Bhai, has saved nearly millions of ridley turtles and wants to dedicate his entire life towards conserving them. He actively engages with the local villagers to spread awareness about this important cause. Last year in October, he was conferred with the prestigious Biju Patnaik Award for Wildlife Conservation.
The endangered olive ridley turtles inhabit the warm waters of Indian and Pacific Ocean. Amid the few nesting sites left for them, Gundabala is one of it and it makes them exposed to poachers. The illegal trawling in that area has also been a major reason for their decreasing population. Their situation has put them on the red list prepared by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declaring them vulnerable species. Bichi Bhai admits that patrolling on the beach done by coast guards could be one of the most effective ways of keeping trawlers in check. The intervention of government authorities, along with the cooperation of the local villagers, is very much required to maintain their ecosystem as per him.
In a conversation with The Logical Indian, Bichitranand Biswal says," When I noticed the dead ridley turtles in such huge numbers, I was deeply saddened to think about the destruction which humans are doing to the wildlife. The marine pollution has also contributed towards their worsening situation. During my early days, I started with informing my neighbours and friends about the cause and then later started engaging in conversations with the villagers. Young people have given overwhelming support for spreading awareness about it. Back in the 1990s, there were no stringent laws related to trawling and sea turtles were even traded to other states from our state. Although now with laws in place, the situation is far better."
Bichi Bhai has also encouraged others to participate in this cause. With his invigorating discussions about wildlife, he has even brought women from the village to actively work towards conservation. Inspired by his work, two youngsters - Soumya Ranjan Biswal and Dilip Kumar Biswal cycled for 800km across Odisha to let others know about the importance of this cause. It also led them being registered in the famous Limca Book of World Records. Both of them look up to Bichi Bhai as their role model and they want that he should also be given the stature of a conservationist for his selfless work. Even after getting a paralysis attack, Bichi Bhai has not stopped working on his mission. Although with regular physiotherapy sessions, he has become better and he finds solace only in working for the conservation of wildlife and nature.
"Just like a mother protects her newborn baby in its infancy stage, it is important to look after the hatchlings in these nesting sites. The hatching process takes place between July to December after which I closely look after the small baby turtles before they finally venture into the sea. It feels great to be a parent to these infant turtles. We have also conducted beach clean-ups with the help of local groups to ensure that the coastal areas are devoid of pollution. It is important for us to realize that we should not disturb the natural habitat of animals for our own comfort or greed. If we keep littering the beaches, carelessly dump into water bodies, then their entire ecosystem gets disturbed. In fact, how would we feelif someone did that to us." shares Bichitranand Biswal while talking with The Logical Indian.
Apart from conserving ridley turtles, he has also worked on other noble fronts. After the cyclone wreaked havoc in Odisha, he started working for the preservation of Casuarina forests. He has rescued many snakes and helps to release them safely whenever they're discovered in his nearby localities. Till now, he has helped to rescue nearly 2000 snakes and the locals entrust his courage for working immediately under such frantic circumstances. He has also built artificial sparrow homes in the coastal areas and seeing them fills him with the nostalgia of his childhood days.
Even though he has attended school till class 10th, he feels that he learns a lot by observing nature and wildlife. He is a member of many community-based groups such as Sea Turtle Action Programme, Astaranga, Odisha Marine Conservation Consortium and others which works for the preservation of wildlife especially sea turtles. He wants to utilize his accumulated knowledge in the best way he can and aspires to educate others about it. He doesn't want that the next generation should remember them only in photos or read about them only in books. He appeals to others in the community to actively work for the conservation. The Logical Indian salutes the efforts of Bichi Bhai for actively working towards the conservation of ridley turtles and spreading awareness about the same.