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THE ENVIRONMENT CRUSADER: DR. PRALAD YONZON

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On November 2011, our nation lost not only one of the top scientists and conservationists on this side of the world but a great human being as well. Dr. Pralad Yonzon was a man of principles, an academic success, an extraordinary sensation in his profession and a loving father. TNM brings to you Dr. Pralad Yonzon, as written by his son: Prasidha Singh Yonzon.

“Black is black and white is white. There is no grey “. This was the golden rule. A man driven by principles, sheer passion for work and hunger for knowledge led an illustrious career. From saving Rhinos to recording Bengal Tigers at the highest altitude, one could say that Dr. Pralad Yonzon never had a dull day at the office. He dedicated his life towards the conservation of nature and the wildlife it has to offer. He worked mostly in the Himalayan region (Nepal, India and Bhutan) but did manage to expand his work in countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, the United States and Canada.

Born in 1951, the year of the tiger, Dr.Yonzon shared similarities with this majestic animal. Like the tiger, he was fearless, sharp and had flair. As a researcher, he knew no bounds to stop him from gaining scientific ground-knowledge. He was always on the move and preferred to be out there in the wild rather than being nailed to the office table and chair.

A brilliant student with three advanced degrees including double masters (MSc) and a PhD from well established American universities (University of Maine, Colorado State University and Stanford University- East West Centre), Dr.Yonzon was always eager to learn more. I still recall him pulling off all-nighters at home like any college student would do. He always said there was still so

 HE ALWAYS SAID THERE WAS STILL SO MUCH TO LEARN IN THE FIELD OF CONSERVATION T HAT EVEN A HUNDRED RE INCARNATION S WOULD NOT  BE ENOUGH FOR HIM.

much to learn in the field of conservation that even a hundred reincarnations would not be enough for him.

Dr.Yonzon, a full bright scholar, was known for guiding sound government policies on nature conservation not only in Nepal but also in Bhutan and Vietnam. Besides influencing policies and frameworks, he had an innate ability for scientific research. He worked extensively in the eastern Himalayas and carried out widespread scientific studies on Rhinos, Red Pandas, fish, birds, elephants, snow leopards and tigers. In particular, during his study, he made a groundbreaking discovery of Bengal Tigers at an elevation of 3,000m (photographic proof) and 4,110m (pug marks) in Bhutan. This discovery proved much significance to the existing knowledge on Bengal tigers. It also, provided deeper insights to the way tigers travel. In his words, “pugmarks at 4,110 meters suggest that tigers use expansively high altitude pass to move into adjoining valleys.”

His contributions towards conservation and biodiversity did not go unnoticed. In 2002, Dr.Pralad Yonzon was awarded the Order of the Golden Ark by HRH Prince Bernhard for providing exceptional services for the conservation of flora and fauna on the earth. This order of merit has been received by the likes of Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh and Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.

His integrity and passion served him well. From what I can tell, “work” made him intrinsically happy. The awards and achievements just came along the way. As his son, there is much I learned from him and yet so much I could have learned. The best thing I learned from him was humility. A recipient of the Order of the Golden Ark, Mary Totten Achievement Award, The Crown Prince Award, Mahendra Vidya Bhusan-First Class, The Distinguished Alumnus Award- University of Maine, and Professional Excellence- Department of Wildlife Resources University of Maine would never come across as showy. Rather, he was more of a simple man. He would enjoy his weekend gardening, hiking the hills that surround Sitapaila, cooking and cycling around Jawalakhel in his shorts and tattered loafers grocery shopping. He would spend Sundays out on the deck with his breakfast and a cup of French-press. During the summer, he used to pick up the guitar and jam out with me for hours. We didn’t do the basics or covers, we really used to rock ‘n’ roll man! I often woke up to the riffs of CCR, the Rolling Stones, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry’s sweet little sixteen, all the good stuff. I loved his taste in music and I picked it up in no time. We used to drive around in his Toyota Four-runner, listening to his mixed tapes when audio cassettes were still ‘in’. I always took the co-pilot’s seat and when I looked over; I would see my hero, my idol. Crew cut, aviators, a white tee, Levis denim and a pair of boots, that’s all you needed.

We grew into being better friends as we grew older. He made things much easier to understand and was always there to help as a friend. There was no awkwardness, no imposed relation, and no obligations. Just a father and son, the best of friends. To say that I miss him would be an understatement. His professional career speaks for itself but he was a different man to me. He was the poet, the musician, the photographer, the cook, the explorer, the comedian, the perfect host, the perfectionist. He was my dad.

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