Pradeep Pattanayak

There was a time when they were known as the most notorious bird hunters in Mangalajodi area, located on the northern shore of the Chilika lake. Now, they have earned the sobriquet of bird saviors. 

Here is the story of their transformation from bird hunters to bird protectors.

For Rama Behera and Siba Behera, Mangalajodi bird sanctuary used to be a source of permanent income. Armed with guns, they used to roam around the sanctuary. At the end of the day, they would return with their prized catch-hunted birds. They would supply them to nearby dhabas and eateries and earn some easy bucks. 

They were used to this lifestyle till their chance encounter with Nandakishore Bhujabal, vice president of Wild Odisha, an organisation working for the safety of birds in Chilika.

Like the cruel hunter and fearless thief, Ratnakar transformed into Maharshi Valmiki, Rama and Siba transformed from dreaded bird hunters to their protectors. They have formed a group in the name of Mahabir Pakhi Suraksha Samiti with Rama being its President and Siba its member. The weapons they once used to kill birds are now being used to save these winged guests.  

“We were thieves then. People are now showing respect to us. This is possible because of our transformation. Keeping Maharshi Valmiki in our mind, we could change ourselves,” said Rama Behera.

Echoing the same, Siba said, “We have spent jail terms for killing birds. Then, Nandakishore Bhujabal came as godsend in our life. Taking the name of Maa Kalijai, we took the vow to protect birds.”

“I could persuade them from killing birds. I told them their earning would end when the birds would stop coming to the sanctuary. So protect them. Now people shower their love on them,” said Nandakishore Bhujabal, vice president of Wild Odisha.  

Besides being the protectors of birds, Rama and Siba have also donned hats of tourist guides.
“During interaction with them (Rama and Siba), I asked them whether hunting of birds is reported or not. In reply, they said hunters know better than to hunt here,” said Dr Niranjan Das, a tourist.