10 min read

Rhino Poacher Has The Most Beautiful Change Of Heart

While it may be impossible to rewrite the tragic errors of the past, it's never too late to shape a better future. For Maheshwar Basumatary, a man who once earned his living wreaking havoc on one of the planet's most imperiled animals, what it took was a change of heart.

Like many young people growing up in poverty in the Assam region of India, Basumatary was forced to quit school early, leaving him with little chance of escaping the cycle he was born into. By age 19, he was already married with children of his own, a young family Basumatarystruggled to support with what few opportunities were available to him.

It was then that he became involved in organized crime - crimes so devastating, they threaten to wipe out an entire species.

"I fell into [the] wrong company ... of poachers," Basumatarysaid in a statement. "There was a certain demand for people like me in the market at that time - someone who had grown up in that area and knew the forests like the back of his own hand. I helped these people into the forests and out."

Over the next several years, Basumatary risked everything to help track down and kill rhinos to rob them of their valuable horns. But while the bloody practice proved profitable enough for him to support his growing family, it ultimately tore it apart. When Basumatary's wife learned of what he was doing, she decided to leave him.

It wasn't long after that he was struck with a divine vision.

"One night in my dreams God appeared and asked me to stop, so I stopped," Basumatary told New Delhi Television. "I feel very bad about having killed the animals."

Basumatary could have then sought out a new line of work that would have put him far from the forests where he'd aided in illegal hunting of animals, but instead, that's exactly where he wanted to be - only this time, his calling was to protect them.

In 2005, he turned himself over to authorities, pledging his tracking skills and familiarity with the region to combat the further loss of wildlife to the hands of poachers. Basumatary eventually joined the International Fund for Animal Welfare - Wildlife Trust of India (IFAW-WTI), serving as a tracker, photographer, naturalist and wildlife defender.

There, he earned the nickname "Ontai" - meaning "Rock" - reflecting his newfound, unwavering commitment toward righting the wrongs he'd committed earlier in his life.

In this new role, Basumatary has proven instrumental in conservation efforts, both in monitoring protected species and keeping them alive against threats.

"It is an honour for us to have amidst us individuals like Ontai," said Vivek Menon of IFAW-WTI in a statement. "Ontai and many of our animal keepers come from a background of difficulties and yet, have taken to fiercely protect the natural heritage in their areas."

(function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = "//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&version=v2.3"; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));Those working alongside Basumatary weren't the only ones to be struck by his story and his incredible contribution to wildlife.In 2013, he was named as the recipient of Sanctuary Asia's Wildlife Service Award in recognition of his work defending wildlife - an honor that would have been unfathomable only a few years earlier.For conservationists working in a region where poaching continues to threaten rhinos and other vulnerable animals, Basumatarystands as an example they hope other young people will follow. That too is a role the former poacher has embraced, and one that's started a new legacy within his own family."I love my work. Instead of hurting the animals I'm actually helping in saving them now. I don't for a minute regret my decision to surrender and turn over a new leaf," he said."Not only did I save my own life - lord knows what would have happened to me if I was still a poacher - but I helped influence my son to also follow the right path and he's also now working for wildlife conservation with the same NGO I started volunteering with all those years ago. He has made me proud."(function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = "//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&version=v2.3"; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));

Those working alongside Basumatary weren't the only ones to be struck by his story and his incredible contribution to wildlife.

In 2013, he was named as the recipient of Sanctuary Asia's Wildlife Service Award in recognition of his work defending wildlife - an honor that would have been unfathomable only a few years earlier.

For conservationists working in a region where poaching continues to threaten rhinos and other vulnerable animals, Basumatarystands as an example they hope other young people will follow. That too is a role the former poacher has embraced, and one that's started a new legacy within his own family.

"I love my work. Instead of hurting the animals I'm actually helping in saving them now. I don't for a minute regret my decision to surrender and turn over a new leaf," he said.

"Not only did I save my own life - lord knows what would have happened to me if I was still a poacher - but I helped influence my son to also follow the right path and he's also now working for wildlife conservation with the same NGO I started volunteering with all those years ago. He has made me proud."