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Pradeep Pattanayak

Sporting curly hair and a circle beard with dark complexion and two eyes that resemble two burning embers, he wears a talisman around his neck and carries a sickle in his hand. These descriptions more often than not match the figure of a hoodlum which indeed he was. 

Not long ago, Gangaram Singh alias Khukun terrorised the jungle world and its human protectors as a ruthless and elusive poacher but like King Ashok, who transformed himself from Chandashoka to Dharmashoka, Khukun has transformed into an ardent animal saviour.

A resident of Balichua village located in Kuldiha Sanctuary in Balasore district, there was a time for Khukun when hunting animal used to be his pastime while jungle used to be his second home. 

For his unmatched skill of throwing the forest staff off its scent after committing each wildlife crime, he had earned an infamous sobriquet ‘Sardhar’. 

In 2007, Khukun was even arrested for his involvement in an elephant poaching case. However, after spending three months in prison as an under trail prisoner, he was absolved from all blames and released.

However the story of Khukun's transformation is truly remarkable. Once used to be a headache for the forest staff, Khukun has now become the pride for the department. One and a half months ago, he was inducted into ‘Sabuja Bahini’, a team of green crusaders. Now, leaving his criminal antecedents far behind, he is going an extra mile to save forest and wild animals. 

Poaching of wild animals in the sanctuary has come down drastically as poachers and wildlife criminals know better than to commit crime in jungles where Khukun is prowling. 

When asked the reason of such a sea change in his character, he readily agreed to narrate an incident that helped him change his personality. 

“One day, armoured with bow and arrows I was moving around in the jungle, searching for hunt. Fortunately, I spotted a mouse deer, scampering from bush to bush. I aimed at it and shot an arrow which hit it. But instead of running away into the bush it came running to me. While trying to catch it, I accidentally cut my leg. Then I thought if a minor cut inflicted so much pain, how much pain the poor animal might have experienced,” narrated Khukun, with tears welling up in his eyes. 

He said at that very moment he gave up hunting and decided to dedicate his life to protect the very animals which he loved to hunt. 

“He (Khukun) was doing all sorts of crimes to earn money. But given that he is employed as a member of ‘Sabuja Bahini’ now, his worry to earn money for livelihood is over. Now he is a dedicated employee, working with us,” said a forest guard, Phulamani Murmu. 

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