Tirtha Man Maskey, a UF graduate, scientist, father and Nepal\'s top wildlife official, died in a helicopter crash in Nepal on Saturday. The crash killed all 24 passengers. Maskey\'s death, his friends said, is a tragedy not only for his family, but also UF, Nepal and the global wildlife conservation community.
"He was in the top echelon of the conservation business," said H. Franklin Percival, a UF wildlife conservation professor and Maskey\'s longtime friend and adviser. In 1978, Maskey received a master\'s degree from the University of Michigan,and he earned a doctorate in wildlife management from UF in 1979, according to his obituary on the World Wildlife Fund\'s Web site.Before coming to the United States, Maskey made his name as a warden in Nepal\'s Royal Chitwan National Park, Percival said.
"He stopped the killing of tiger and rhinoceros," Percival said. "To cut that off, he didn\'t make any friends. He had to have like a 200-man complement from the king\'s army to protect him. That\'s an astounding thing for somebody in the \'70s to do."
Maskey\'s research at UF focused on protecting the gharial, a relative of the alligator. "He chose to come here because there were a great many people at UF working on alligators and crocodiles," Percival said. Maskey took his know-how back to Nepal, where he became the director general of Nepal\'s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation. "He was running the entire wildlife program for his country," said Mel Sunquist, a UF wildlife ecology professor who worked alongside Maskey in Nepal for three years.
"He was a field guy," Sunquist said. "He was out for months at a time. He stayed at field camps. That\'s a dedication to what he was doing." Radah Mali, Maskey\'s friend who knew him when he studied in Gainesville, said he was a family man who loved doing research. The downed helicopter was a chartered Russian MI-17 bound for a local airport. Other prominent conservationists were also aboard, Percival said. The BBC reported Monday that the helicopter party was returning from a landmark ceremony to hand over the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area from the government to the local community. "He went doing what he loved best," Mali said.
"We can\'t forget what a tragic, catastrophic thing this is for that little nation." Maskey is survived by his wife, two children and a species of frog that bears his name.
By DOMINICK TAO
University of Florida