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The Nepalese Tiger Conservationist Who Lost an Eye and Gained Leonardo DiCaprio’s Sunglasses

Conservation hero Bhadai Tharu donning the sunglasses presented to him by Hollywood Star - Leonardo Di Caprio. Image courtesy Facebook page of the Tharu Community

Conservation hero Bhadai Tharu donning the sunglasses presented to him by Hollywood star Leonardo Di Caprio. Image courtesy Facebook page of the Tharu Community

Bardia National Park, Nepal’s largest park in the southern plains, is famous for Bengal tigers. Connecting the park with India’s Katerniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary in the south-east is the Khata corridor, which offers a free passage to wild animals from India to Nepal and vice versa.

The Khata Community Forest Coordination Committee plays a crucial role in managing and protecting the corridor. One of the active members of the committee is Bhadai Tharu, a man so committed to conserving tigers that even a tiger attack didn't dissuade him from his personal mission.

One of his eyes was ripped out by a tiger when he was inside the park during kharkhadai in 2004, a period spanning over three days when the park authorities allow locals to enter the park to cut grass for their annual use. People use the newly cut grass to change their thatched roofs each year, as well as make fences to keep animals out of their fields.

To cover the deep scars from the unfortunate incident, he dons a pair of dark sunglasses all the time. But they aren't just any old sunglasses: the shades were given to him by American actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

Conservation hero Bhadai Tharu donning sunglasses gifted to him by Titanic star Leonardo DiCaprio.

When DiCaprio was visiting Nepal in May 2010, he gifted Tharu the sunglasses that he was wearing after seeing the man's commitment towards tiger conservation. The two ended up spending a significant amount of time together.

In an interview with the Dreams magazine, Tharu said:

“We talked about my past, and then he told me he had heard a lot about me and seen my pictures. It was one of the proudest moments of my life, as I recognized him as the hero from Titanic, the one with the girl on the boat.”

Tharu, who rose from the ranks of a landless bonded labourer to a conservation hero, was awarded the Abraham Conservation Award in 2004 in recognition to his contribution towards conservation. Here is him singing a conversation song in his local Tharu language:

In a Facebook post, the Tharu Community, a Facebook community of indigenous Tharus, writes (in Nepali):

‘भारतको बाघ नेपालमा आउने,
नेपालको बाघसँग मायाप्रीति लाउने ।
उनीहरूको मायाप्रीति नछुटाऊँ है,
वन्यजन्तु हिँड्ने बाटोमा बाधा नपु¥याऊँ है..!’

कुनै जमानामा ११ वर्षसम्म कमैया बसेका सूर्यपटुवा– ४, बर्दियाका भदइ थारुले अचेल गाउँदै हिँड्ने गीत हो यो । […]

[…] “पहिले त मलाई आक्रमण गर्ने बाघलाई खोजी खोजी मारौं जस्तो लाग्थ्यो तर पछि बाघले आफू आपत्मा परेको बेला जोगिन मलाई आक्रमण गर्यो होला भन्ने लाग्यो,” उनले भने, “त्यसैले अचेल बाघको बासस्थान संरक्षणमा जुटेको छु ।” […]

‘India’s tiger comes to Nepal,
Falls in love with Nepal’s tiger.
Let’s not break their love,
Let’s not obstruct the wildlife corridor.’

Once, a bonded labourer for 11 years, Bhadai Tharu of Suryapatuwa-4, Bardia, sings this song these days. […]

[…] “At first I felt like searching and killing the tiger that attacked me, but then I thought it might have attacked me to save itself from the lurking danger,” said Bhadai. “That’s why I have been engaged in conservation of tiger habitats.”

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