Last week, as I was enjoying lunch with my soft-spoken colleague Dev Narayan Mandal, he said something in passing that caused me to down my cutlery. It was one of those run-that-past-me-again moments.
In the two-and-a-half years that I have known Dev he had never shared this remarkable story from six years ago.
In 2012, Dev returned to his home in Dhanusha district after working on animal rescue for ten years in Delhi. Coincidentally, this was soon after I myself returned home to live in the UK after eight years in Nepal.
We never met then, but it is easy to see how our paths could have crossed in India. I was heading up operations to rescue Nepali child slaves who had been trafficked to perform in Indian circuses. The last operation was to free little girls from the dangerous Great Apollo Circus in Dehradun. Dev himself had been involved at that time in a raid on the same circus to free some bears.
After returning to Nepal, Dev set up the Mithila Wildlife Trust (MWT) to try to reverse the environmental damage in the beloved local woodlands from his childhood. Forests that were supposed to be protected were being illegally logged.
He got retired forestry workers to volunteer, and with the collaboration of 13 villages set out to protect the Dhanushadham Forest. Today, the rewilding program is a success and is being replicated elsewhere in Nepal.