Story | 04 Sep, 2016

Meet the Heritage Hero voted by the public – Bibhuti Lahkar

The public has spoken, choosing Bibhuti Lahkar as the people’s choice Heritage Hero, for his dedication to the conservation of India’s Manas Wildlife Sanctuary. The result of last week’s online voting was announced at the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawai‘i, USA.

The Heritage Heroes Awards also recognise Bantu Lukambo and Josué Kambasu Mukura jointly for their work in protecting Virunga National Park in DRC, as well as Yulia Naberezhnaya and Andrey Rudomakha for their joint actions in the Western Caucasus in Russia.

In Manas Wildlife Sanctuary, a scientist who young people look up to

“Manas is a World Heritage site and is a universal property – and it is our moral responsibility to protect it,” says Bibhuti Lahkar, winner of the Heritage Hero people’s choice award. “I just try my very best. My work is not only based on research, it is also aimed at building the next generation to empower them with education and opportunities for livelihood.”

A confirmed scientist, Bibhuti Lahkar devotes his life to the conservation of Manas Wildlife Sanctuary. An expert in human-wildlife conflict mitigation, he showed how humans and elephants, for example, can live side by side. He has empowered some 300 young people to be directly engaged in the site’s protection, including 100 whom he trained as tour guides, and has helped train converted poachers on the monitoring of wildlife.

The Manas Wildlife Sanctuary was withdrawn from the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2011, after almost two decades of armed conflict. Bibhuti Lahkar’s field-based surveys were among the first to establish that the site was indeed on a path of recovery

In Virunga National Park, two fishermen mobilise communities against environmental crimes

“I want to thank IUCN for this award. Being recognised as a Heritage Hero gives me the impetus to continue the work and to do even more, so that others can look up to what I do and follow my steps,” says Bantu Lukambo.

Two fishermen of Lake Edward, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bantu Lukambo and Josué Kambasu Mukura, play a crucial role in protecting Virunga National Park at the risk of their own lives. Africa's oldest national park is exposed to severe threats, including poaching and pressures from the oil industry, and has been on the List of World Heritage in Danger for over 20 years.

Continuously engaging with local communities, the two Heritage Heroes strive to demonstrate the huge potential of the park as a sustainable way out of poverty. Today they call for environmental crimes to be condemned as crimes against humanity.

In Western Caucasus, two locals speak out against threat from infrastructure

 “I don’t consider myself a hero,” says Yulia Naberezhnaya. “I am very moved by the other heroes’ stories, and I will learn a lot from them. It helps to be recognised as Heritage Hero, this will bring international attention to the work that we’re doing.”

Yulia Naberezhnaya and Andrey Rudomakha in the Western Caucasus in Russia have been nominated recognised as Heritage Heroes, for their role in mitigating impacts from infrastructures threatening the site. Through their interventions, they have stopped road constructions and illegal logging and ensured developments related to the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi would not damage its Outstanding Universal Value. 

Today they continue to raise awareness on continued pressure from planned development of winter sports facilities affecting the pristine nature of the Western Caucasus.

Supported by the MAVA Foundation and Star Alliance’s Biosphere Connections, the Heritage Heroes project was implemented by IUCN’s World Heritage Programme in collaboration with the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas.

The 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress is currently taking place in Hawai‘i, USA until 10 September.