Biggest challenge is to link development with conservation
Ravi Singh is Secretary General & CEO, WWF-India
Q: How did you venture into the conservation field from your banking and management background?
In very simple terms, by walking through forests and observing nature as it is, first hand. It is only when one is out there on the field, that one learns much more than what theory can teach you. My foray into conservation was a passion I nurtured from the time I was young and remained with me right through my years of banking. India and its wildlife and forests are things that I hold very close and remain my greatest passion and now my profession.
Q: How challenging is the conservation of mega faunal species in India's human dominated landscapes?
It’s possibly the biggest wildlife conservation challenge in the world – to keep our remaining wildlife habitats intact and connected, to link India’s development with conservation imperatives, to keep the connection and support of communities and the support and coordination of our governments at the center and state levels. Even with India’s developmental challenges, we conserve wildlife in ways followed and respected by many countries. In many ways it is our success in conserving wildlife and especially mega-fauna that throws up new challenges which we must learn to deal with. Conflict mitigation, preserving habitats for posterity, so that India may benefit as an ecological whole, is imperative for us. Protecting life, including wildlife, as a part of our cultural heritage, implementing laws, creating channels for sharing of knowledge and science and doing these well and in coherence are immense challenges. And, this while India needs to grow more food, and in better ways so as to conserve and improve the environment, maintain river and water networks, conserve soil and forests while managing a growing urban footprint. Tigers and elephants, being large territorial mammals, need to have a large home range. In a country where forested areas are interspersed with human dominated areas, these large mammals often end up in the latter while they move from one source population to another. It is then that issues like human-wildlife conflict come to the fore. Elephants, a majority of which are outside of Protected Area boundaries, pose an even greater challenge when it comes to securing their habitat and preventing conflict with humans. Dealing with rapid land use change, is perhaps the greatest challenge today that conservationists must deal with.
Q: What can be a long term strategy for tackling increasing man animal conflict in the country and how can the antagonistic approach of public be minimized to avoid mob lynching incidents?
Conflict management requires a long term vision and an integrated approach. While there will always be the need for immediate intervention when a wild animal inadvertently or otherwise makes its way into a human dominated area, this can never be a substitute for a well planned and formulated strategy. While habitat fragmentation and loss seem to be the largest drivers for increase in human-wildlife conflict, the brunt of this will be borne by local communities. While this may be unavoidable, it can certainly be managed should the two key stakeholder groups i.e. forest management authorities and the local communities engage with each other on a regular basis. Conflict management measures should be taken up by the district administration, forest department, and other line departments, in collaboration with the village administration or panchayat and local communities. Local communities need to be made a stakeholder in its prevention and management. There is also a need to sensitize the public and other agencies on the fact that such conflicts are man-made and to sensitize the media to not sensationalize such incidents. The role of media especially local media in fanning fear and anger within the public must not be underestimated and conservationists and wildlife managers need to work towards sensitizing the former when it comes to reporting of conflict.
Q: What are the major challenges in implementing ecosystem based projects and species based projects, in your opinion?
A balance of both approaches is needed for successful conservation interventions for all wildlife species. For species that are habitat specialists like rhinos, species based projects with large components of active management can be taken up if a suitable habitat is available. For example, erstwhile rhino habitats in Assam, which saw the extinction of the species, like the Manas National Park and Laokhowa - Burachapori Wildlife Sanctuaries, need a species based approach for restoration. This was followed by the Indian Rhino Vision 2020, a project undertaken by the Assam Forest Department, Bodoland Territorial Council, International Rhino Foundation and WWF-India to help expand rhino distribution within the state of Assam. However, one of the major challenges in a species-based approach is that implementers need to first curb the threat that exterminated the species in the first place and then work on recovery of the species population.
For species that range in large and different habitats, like tigers and elephants, one needs to adopt an ecosystem based approach. This method ensures that one looks at the entire ecosystem and its services. The challenges for this model also remain the same as the species-based approach but also take into account issues such as integrating multiple stakeholders and land use approaches as well as the impacts of climate change on the ecosystems.
Given the need for drawing water from our rivers for agriculture and industry, preserving the remaining habitats for Gangetic dolphins, the gharial and other aquatic wildlife through eco system based concepts are challenges by themselves though the understanding of these concepts is on an improving curve.
Q: How is WWF spreading its wing in the field of environment protection, especially in mitigating climate change?
With the second largest population in the world, India still ranks very low in terms of the human development index ranking. Development and poverty eradication are therefore key priority areas for the country. While it’s one of the fastest growing economies in the world today, 300 million people still don’t have access to electricity and millions of people depend on solid biomass fuels to meet cooking and heating requirements. The per capita electricity consumption in India is less than one fourth of the world average and while it is the third largest GHG emitter country in the world, its per capita emissions are 1/3rd of the world average. Climate change is thus one of the most formidable development challenges facing countries such as ours. WWF-India’s interventions aim to promote approaches to climate mitigation that are science-based, scalable and have policy relevance for larger impact. Our work spans across a wide variety of themes and involves research and policy as well as actual implementation at the grassroots – all of which play an important role in contributing to the overall mitigation strategy for climate change.
Q: How do you see the trends in the organized wildlife crime and the role TRAFFIC India is playing in combating illegal trade of flora and fauna?
Today, wildlife crime is recognized as a specialized area of organized criminal activity and is one of the top five global crimes as increasingly reported. To tackle issues of this scale there is a need for enhanced coordination between various governmental and wildlife law enforcement agencies. TRAFFIC India enhances capacities within enforcement agencies including paramilitary forces, police & customs and the judiciary on various issues related to wildlife crime. TRAFFIC has also pioneered training programs for wildlife sniffer dogs which are now being adopted by many states as a force to counter wildlife crime. Over the years TRAFFIC has established itself as a credible scientific organisation undertaking research and conducting studies on wildlife trade in various species, highlighting early trends and helping government authorities take adequate decision and enforcement actions. It also helps build awareness about the growing menace of illegal wildlife trade and its conservation impact. TRAFFIC also provides inputs to CITES management authority in India regarding trade in wildlife.
Q: What policy interventions both at Center and State levels do you feel are required to given impetus to conservation strategies in the country?
India has very robust policies to take forward the conservation agenda which need to be implemented to their fullest to be able to achieve impact on ground. This is a key aspect. On another scale, a crucial aspect is planning for a larger agenda of sustainable development. This needs to be a synergized process and the plan should ensure that the ecosystem services and values are used sustainably and not just compensated for. Further, the developmental agenda needs to integrate concerns regarding sustainability. Thus, key ecosystem products such as water, air and biodiversity need to be used wisely and sustainably in the pursuit of development. This would mean that critical ecosystems be identified and prioritized for conservation and also not violated in the pursuit of development. Finally, where there are costs that are required to be imposed or regulation enacted for protecting the well being of the people, such as for cleaning up the air in our cities, or ensuring that water shortages for drinking and decent living are not disrupted, compromises must not be made and regulations should be strictly enforced. As mentioned above, the National vision document and the Action agenda must ensure a synergized process as well as an inclusive and green vision with actionable steps.
Q: What role ecotourism or wildlife tourism plays in today's protected areas and does it really help local communities in making their lives better?
Ecotourism and wildlife tourism are two different things. Corbett sees a lot of wildlife tourism. However, only a tiny component of that is eco-tourism. A larger share of tourism revenues need to go to local communities, to help their livelihood and also reduce their dependence on forests as well as make them stakeholders in conservation. However, responsible wildlife tourism, one that cares protected areas, is one of the best ways to view wildlife and instill an understanding for it. It is through such good examples that affection and care for wildlife is inducted and passed on through generations; it is one such way that stories are woven and told of the lives of animals and birds and their interactions in nature. On another aspect, ecotourism does contribute towards augmenting incomes of local communities. Examples in Kerala, Arunachal and Sikkim prevail. However, there is a need for implementing more local models of community based ecotourism around Protected Areas. This will ensure that local communities benefit from such practices and improve their livelihoods and living conditions. This will provide direct benefits of conservation to local communities.
Q: What is your advice to the youth who wish to contribute to nature conservation and see more flora & fauna around them?
I would tell them to go out and see the country; see how it has preserved some of its wildernesses and heritage. It will open up new perspectives and also help them understand the country better that way. It’s always enriching and a learning experience to meet with people who have contributed to conservation at the field level and learn from them. Of course, needless to say, it’s always important to study to increase knowledge of the sector and the work over the years and through knowledge one will find their own ways to contribute. Lastly and most importantly, travel and observe well.
Poachers take advantage of man-animal conflict situations
Dr Aravind Chaturvedi, Additional Superintendent of Police, Special Task Force, UP Police, is acclaimed for his monumental contribution towards the cause of wildlife protection. A 1991 batch UP State Police officer, he is a thorough professional who would go to any length to highlight the backward and forward linkages in illegal trade in the wildlife contrabands at suitable levels in India and abroad. Here he sheds light on the modus operandi of wildlife mafia and the ways of putting a noose around them
What role does the STF play in curbing wildlife related crimes?
UP Special Task Force was created in 1998 within UP Police to combat organized crime and criminals. It took up the challenges of wildlife crimes as early as 2001 with its first tiger and leopard skin seizure in Kanpur. Thereafter, a team under my leadership was created at STF HQ Lucknow to handle wildlife crime cases. We studied this crime in detail and found that it is second only to the narcotics smuggling in terms of money involved. Further, our study revealed that there are mainly four entities involved in wildlife crimes namely, poacher, carrier, trader and international smuggler. UP has a large Terai belt all along in its northern part which also shares a porous border with Nepal. Nepal being a major illegal trade route for most of the wildlife contrabands, it poses a great challenge for the stakeholders in the government machinery to keep a watch, develop intelligence and do operations to curb this menace. STF, with its expertise in electronic surveillance, has developed an exhaustive database of the suspected poachers, carriers, traders and international smugglers to carry on operations against them. STF is also the nodal body of UP Police for inter-agency coordination in wildlife cases.
Why UP has special place in wildlife crime scenario?
Unfortunately, UP possesses all the four entities of wildlife crime mentioned above. There are traditional belts and families who are into this trade for many generations and have thereby developed expertise. There is a Qureshi family of Khaga, Fatehpur which is the most infamous in wildlife contraband trade. One of the two brothers, Shabbir Hasan Quereshi is settled in Allahabad. He along with his sons Sarfaraj and Siraj, brother-in-law Md Ayub and 12 poachers/carriers were arrested by my team in Dec 2007 and three tiger skins, 75 kg of bones, iron traps and other objectionable materials were recovered on them. All the 16 accused in the case were sentenced to a full 7 years term which is the maximum in a wildlife case. The other brother Shamim Hasan Quereshi and his son Shakeel Hasan Qureshi were also arrested by my team in different cases. In addition to tiger and leopard poaching/trade, UP also has a very rich population of 15 species of turtles out of total 26 species found in India. The Chambal, Yamuna, Ganga, Saryu and their hundreds of tributaries, ponds and stale water bodies give natural habitat to them. My team has recently recovered approx. 4.5 tons (4500 kg) of turtles numbering approx. 6500 in Amethi besides almost half a dozen shells. We have found that these turtles are illegally poached and traded to Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai through well-established channels of carriers for further international shipments. These are used for meat, as pet and also as fengshui, a part of Chinese mythology and tradition. Therefore, UP plays a very important role in combating the wildlife crime menace.
There has been a spurt in and subsequent busting of major smuggling rackets involved in illegal sandalwood trade. Please elaborate the causes for it and the main gangs busted. Which is the area that's being most affected by this form of crime?
We noticed a sudden increase in the sandalwood theft cases in central UP districts. They were cut and stolen from the residences of DMs, SPs, DFOs, CMOs and research institutes including CIMAP, Lucknow University etc. We developed intelligence about these incidents and came to know that the Pardi community of Katni, MP which is infamous for sandalwood illegal cutting and smuggling, has entered UP in small groups and they are largely responsible for the thefts. The first group was arrested in Shahjahanpur in early January this year and on interrogation their nexus with the perfume industry in Kannauj was brought to light. A systematic effort was initiated and more groups along with Kannauj traders were arrested in next few weeks with more than 600 kg of sandalwood seized.
Do you think the law falls short of the required edge in dealing with such crime? How can it be amended to suit the present scenario?
The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 deals with the flora and fauna in India. It gives protection to the scheduled animals and plants. Very strangely, it does not protect sandalwood and hence cutting and selling of sandalwood does not attract any legal action unless it is stolen. The sandalwood should be included in the scheduled plant list.
What is the biggest challenge in handling wildlife criminals in India?
India being a huge country, it is a tremendous challenge in controlling the wildlife crimes. The nature and modus operandi of wildlife crimes vary from region to region. For example tiger is poached in India by three methods, by poisoning, by laying iron traps and by electrocution. There are pardis of Madhya Pradesh; gujjars of Samalkha, Haryana; Sanperas of Uttaranchal and then locals in various habitats of tigers who have developed expertise. Most of them roam around in groups, disguise themselves under the cover of petty traders and kill and skin tigers. Same is true with other targeted animals and species. Further, maximum of 7 years sentence in the WLPA, 1972 and easy grant of bail in wildlife crime cases have also adversely impacted the effective control on such crimes. The courts are less sensitive on wildlife cases and the habitual offenders get bail and again repeat the offence. Secondly, inter-agency cooperation is very much desired in combating wildlife crimes effectively. The Government of India has created Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) for high level coordination, intelligence and data sharing amongst the stakeholders.
You have always gone out of your way in tackling crimes related with forests and wildlife? How did you develop this fondness for Nature?
In fact, I am a pet lover. I strongly believe that we must strike a balance between development and the ecology. The overemphasis on development has led to the shrinkage of forests and related imbalances in the flora and fauna. The perpetrators of wildlife crime are taking advantage of this situation in the name of man-animal conflict and so on. Working in STF, I could develop a strong intelligence gathering system on wildlife crimes, conduct operations on such inputs and thereafter ensure good investigation based on digital evidences for effective prosecution in the courts. Often I find that tiger, the king of jungle, or elephant, the most powerful animal, are killed by the nefarious designs of poachers. Interestingly enough, thousands of animals must have witnessed the brutal killing of their jungle mates but they cannot come to the court to give their statement and therefore, the responsibility of the investigating officer increases manifold to gather and present digital and forensic evidences in the support of the case.
What is your advice to the youth?
My young friends can stay aware about the wildlife crimes, can spread awareness around them, become watchdogs for their protection, abstain from buying contrabands, can sponsor an animal of choice in zoo and top of everything, can remain empathetic to wildlife issues. They should develop a sense of responsibility towards animals that cannot express themselves and, in the current scenario, live at the mercy of humans.
Electric fencing can prevent crop damage by beasts
Dr Asad R. Rahmani is Senior Scientific Adviser, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). He has a research experience of more than 40 years and his past responsibilities include: Director of BNHS (1997-2015); Chairman, Centre of Wildlife & Ornithology, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India (1994-1997); Senior Scientist of the BNHS (1984-1992); Project Scientist of Endangered Species Project (1981-1984)
Q: How did you develop this fondness for Mother Nature?
From childhood I was interested in Nature. I had lots of pets such as pigeon, dogs, rabbits, fish, frog, cat, parakeet and so many more. My father was a District Judge so we used to live in large houses with lots of trees, bushes and birds. I was able to watch, appreciate and get interested in the biodiversity of life, even the insects! We also had gardens so I was surrounded by Nature all the time. This is how I developed love for all living things.
Q: What are the major challenges in biodiversity conservation and green cover maintenance in cities?
We do not expect high biodiversity in cities but we can still propagate biodiversity by leaving large open spaces, gardens with native trees and bushes, and urban wetlands. For all cities, we should have a master plan with gardens/open spaces as fundamental requirement of good living. These plans should not be tempered due to political exigencies. All large housing societies and corporate buildings should have water harvesting system, solar energy and gardens (with native trees). Utmost care should be taken while widening roads so avenue trees are not cut. Moreover, for tree roots to breathe and get nutrition, space should be left around avenue trees. Only native trees should be planted, not the exotics, in our cities.
Q: What special role do wetlands play and should separate strategies be adopted to preserve different wetlands or a unified strategy works best? Please explain with suitable examples.
Wetlands are called kidneys of the earth, and also liquid wealth. There are various types of wetlands from freshwater to brackish to mangrove to jheel to temple tanks. All have their own importance. So, we need different strategies to protect the wetlands, but the fundamental issue should be that character of a wetland should not be changed. For example, mangroves that are present on the sea coast need sea water and they depend on high and low tides. If a bundh (dam) or wall is developed to block the high-and-low tide brackish water, the mangrove dies. Natural water regime should be maintained for protection of coastal mangroves. Similarly, flood plain wetlands of the larger rivers (e.g. Ganga) are generally shallow (called jheels) and gets water during monsoon, and become dry (or have less water) during summer. This character should be maintained. If we bring too much water, the character of a jheel will change. Shallow jheels are extremely productive as far as water birds are concerned. No wetland can survive in isolation as every natural wetland needs a large catchment area from where monsoon water is drained in. Therefore, it is extremely important to look at the larger catchment. If the catchment is destroyed, the wetland will die as has happened in many urban and semi-urban wetlands.
Q: What are the best ways to mitigate man-animal conflict, especially those occurring between farmers and beasts like bluebulls, elephants, wild pigs etc, without the necessity of shooting down or displacing the native animal whose territory is actually being encroached?
First we should stop encroaching wild areas, and secondly if the population of some animals becomes too large, as is the case of Nilgai or Bluebull and Wild Pigs, such problem animals should be removed. We should not be very sensitive about controlling animals whose population has grown up. Wherever Bluebulls and/or Wild Pigs have increased, they should be controlled by shooting, but this shooting should be under strict supervision of the authorities. No shooting should be allowed inside a protected area or in reserve forest. It should be only when these animals are found living in crop fields and destroying crops of poor farmers. Such controlling of animal populations should not become an excuse for so-called 'sport hunting'. Regarding Elephant, no shooting should be allowed unless an elephant has become human-killer (very very rare case anyway). Asian Elephant is Schedule I animal, and this so-called elephant-human conflict is only in restricted areas. Crop damage by Wild Elephant can be prevented by electric fencing of crop fields and better vigilance.
Q: When it comes to birds and beasts, the common man calls them the concern of the forest or related authority. Is there a way in which everyone can be made a part of flora fauna conservation?
Inculcate love of Nature from childhood to develop empathy towards all living things. Show the child the value of biodiversity in our life. He must be made to understand that animals can live without us, we cannot live without them.
Renukoot village forests best example of successful strategic planning
Ashish Tiwari is Special Secretary, Forest & Environment, and Director Environment, Government of UP
Q: What are the major challenges to biodiversity conservation, especially tiger conservation?
As I am born and brought up in forested Satpura Landscape of Madhya Pradesh and served for more than 15 years in diverse landscapes as Field Officer/PA manager, I have seen a wide cross section of challenges in the field of bio-diversity and tiger conservation. My experience goes from Terai Landscape to Vindhyan and Bhabhar to Doab region. Everywhere some area specific issues related to conservation exist besides many common issues. In Vindhyan region the issue is of fragmentation of habitat though pressure is not very high whereas in Terai region, particularly in Dudhwa landscape, pressure on forests is very high. The pressure ranges from biotic pressure through fares, poaching, illegal cutting of trees and encroachments to development projects. When I sum up the issues related to conservation, following are really the major challenges:
- Habitat fragmentation due to dispersed settlements and though fares
- Biotic pressure including trespassing the forests for fuel wood collection and grazing
- Illegal activities like poaching, tree cutting and encroachments
- Increase of population in and around the forest areas
- Unsustainable collection/harvest of forest resources
- Development projects without appropriate impact mitigation measures
- Hostile community
- Poor status of corridors and buffer areas
- Human animal conflict
10. Habitat degradation especially due to flooding/silting and proliferation of invasive species
11. In adequate human and financial resources
Q: What are the various initiatives that can be taken to overcome such challenges?
The real success of a field level officer lies in how to organize available resources to overcome the challenges. I strongly believed in this ideology. In order to meet the challenges I tried to device my action plan in two categories- Long term and short term.
- Long term initiatives
- The long term initiatives included formulation of Tiger Conservation Plan for DTR to initiate the habitat improvement measures to handle new challenges
- Build a rapport with the community
- Initiate the dialogue with the community for voluntary village relocation
- Initiate multilevel measures for improving protection status in buffers and corridors
- Develop protocols and SOPs for protection of forests and wildlife etc.
- The short term actions include
- Winning the confidence of community: organized workshops/orientation programmes/exposure tours for community. In order to initiate dialogue for voluntary village relocation the representatives of the community were sent to Satpura Tiger Reserve to interact with the resettled villagers
- More humanitarian approach in human animal conflict situation, rapid response, government vehicle to carry the victim to the hospital, handholding during treatment, harnessing financial resources with NGO support
- Improving the implementation status of schemes and measures
- Co-ordination with other enforcement agencies to overcome shortage of staff
- Trans-boundary coordination because DTR is right on the Indo-Nepal Border and corridors fall in Nepal
- Coordination with media, NGOs and the community
- Strict enforcement for protection of forests and wildlife by incorporating modern techniques of intelligence and surveillance
- Team building and welfare of the field staff, providing solar power and safe overhead water in patrolling camps
- Lead from front
10. Up-gradation of eco-tourism facilities
11. Involvement of community in Eco-tourism services to improve their income levels
12. Foot patrolling: I used to do foot patrolling in the forest on a 15-20 km area everyday.
Q: What is village forest creation and what are its benefits?
I have worked for a very long period in Vindhyan landscape as DFO Renukoot Forest Division. Renukoot Forest Division is the largest Forest Division of UP and encloses the most prime forest area of Vindhyan hills. The forest dwelling community is heavily dependent on forests and forest resources. The community settlements are dispersed and have impact on whole of the forest area. Looking to the prevailing circumstances I got convinced that forest management of degraded areas is possible only with the support of the community but having seen the fate of JFM, community support could be drawn with additional livelihood activities which are not forest resource based. So some heavily degraded forest areas were identified as Village Forests (VFs) under the provisions of IFA and handed over to the community for management and development. Some income generating activities were also initiated to raise the income level of the members of Forest User Group. The mechanism for harvesting of Forest Resources from VFs was developed on the basis of principles of sustainability and the middlemen were also eliminated so as to pass the real benefit to the community. The community were also trained and supported for farming of medicinal plants outside the forest areas and alternative livelihood activities were also initiated. The forest of the VFs were developed and managed by the community, plantations were raised successfully on degraded areas. The VFs of the Renukoot Forest Division are now set to earn carbon credits which shows the success of the intervention by declaration of VFs
Q: You have been bestowed with WWF PATA Award 2016. You must be feeling an enhanced sense of responsibility. What new frontiers are to be conquered now?
PATA AWARD definitely gives me new sense of responsibility It not only my work, but the joint effort of the entire team of Katerniaghat deserves an applause. It is my ROs, DRs, FRs, FGs and watchers who have really worked hard. I have more sense of responsibility towards them because they are the real warriors. I wish to start an award for field staff with the money received in WWF PATA Award. A lot needs to be done for them as they work hard but their families suffer. They are not even provided with transit homes where they can place their families for education and other basic needs. With whatever little power and role I have in the system I will try to make efforts for their well being. To me the forest force is the most committed and dedicated force.
Q: What is your advice to the youth?
My advice to the youth is that always choose a profession of your liking. For this you need to know yourself. If you work in the field of your choice then you effortlessly work hard and put in your best. Never run away from hard work. Keep yourself physically fit and mentally alert. And never forget to be kind towards the Nature and wildlife. Understand the importance of biodiversity and contribute in its conservation in your own way no matter what field you are in professionally.
The College is aiming to become a Zero Garbage Zone
Upma Chaturvedi is Principal of Avadh Girls’ Degree College, Lucknow
Q: Since you became the Principal of the College, you have been making consistent efforts to install eco- friendly measures on the campus. Please highlight the major initiatives.
Avadh Girls’ Degree College organised a Tree Plantation Drive on Teachers Day in which the present and former Teachers planted trees in the campus. 10 trees were planted ceremoniously, one tree per Department and the responsibility of the upkeep of the tree was given to each department. A total of 35 flowering trees have planted in two years in the College.
A lot of emphasis is given on cleanliness. The Eco-Restoration Club of Avadh Girls’ Degree College has put banners and posters in the campus to sensitize the students about saving water and keeping the surroundings clean. Several programs, dramas and skits are held regularly to create and spread awareness.
The College has been declared as a No Plastic Zone. All the plastic bags are replaced by paper bags. The College is aiming to become a Zero Garbage Zone as well. We have replaced the plastic and Styrofoam plates with steel plates in the canteen with an intension to reduce waste production.
Recently, our College has adopted a government school in Kabinetganj. The teachers and students of NSS and Social Service Club of the College visit the school regularly. Cleanliness drives are held at the school and we spread awareness among the children of the school as well.
Q: What role can educational institutions play in creating 'green citizens' out of their students?
A major role is played by the parents. Educational institutes come next. The teachers should teach the importance of greenery to the students and encourage them to follow green practices. A change in mind set of the students is to be made and it can be done by the teachers by making them aware of the importance of clean environment.
Q: Do you think schools and colleges should set an example by turning their campuses as green and environment friendly as possible? What are the main challenges in doing that?
Yes. The main challenge is to motivate the students to look after their environment and follow green practices. In a College, there are students from different strata. It is challenging to inculcate the sense of love towards nature in them. Changing mind set of a student is very difficult and lots of effort goes into achieving that.
Q: Do you think 'environment' should be included as a separate, compulsory subject in education system?
The subject of Environmental Studies is already taught in schools till 12th class. I think in graduation level, environmental awareness should be included in the Rashtra Gaurav paper.
Q: How did you develop this sensitivity towards Nature & your advice to the Gen Next?
I have learnt these values from my parents who always emphasized on having compassion for plants, animals and environment. I wish to give these values to the next generation as well so that they may grow up to become better citizens and help in making our country even better.
We must take a united stand against puppy mills - November 2016
Ambika Nijjar is a lawyer and animal rights activist who believes Indians have a tradition in compassion for all living beings
Q: When it comes to the rights of strays, do they have any or are they simply at the mercy of benevolent mankind?
When it comes to the rights of strays we must understand that in India our government used to kill stray dogs for over 50 years and when we stopped killing those defenseless animals, we had still not managed to reduce the population. This killing programme is not an efficient long term solution. What we need to do is to sterilize and vaccinate. Removing dogs from one area leaves that area open for other dogs to move in. The Hon'ble Supreme Court and the Central Government have expressly prohibited the killing of stray dogs. The Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001 must be enforced properly so that the stray population is efficiently reduced without being cruel to the animals.
Q: What are the responsibilities that come with the adoption of a pet?
Adopting a pet is welcoming a new member into your family. Dogs and cats become an equal member of the family. They love unconditionally and unite the family. For everything that these animals give us, we as family members must give them the same kind of love and respect. People who buy dogs and then throw them out when someone claims to have an allergy do not truly deserve the love and respect that the animals give us. Many people in India are obsessed with buying ‘foreign dogs’ or ‘pedigreed dogs’. They have little or no idea about what breeders do to dogs. They put mother dogs to sleep after they can no longer have puppies. Put puppies to sleep if they don't sell. Over-breed them like there is no tomorrow. That's why they are called puppy mills. These puppies have so many diseases and seldom have a normal happy life. Instead, people should adopt Indian dogs. Healthy, happy Indian dogs that are accustomed to living in India. These dogs rarely fall sick and are incredibly faithful and loving.
Q: Is there any provision in Indian law against pet owners who I'll treat their dogs?
Yes, there are laws that protect animals from cruelty. Section 11 of The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 protects animals from being beaten and mandate owners to feed, give water and shelter to animals in their custody. However, taking a pet in requires much more of us than not being cruel to them. We have a duty of care. Yes, if someone is ill treating any animal a case can be lodged under The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. We need to be patient with the police authorities as they deal with all sorts of cases from women, children to animals. They are overburdened. We need to show them the laws and seek their help. If they do not help, we have to meet the senior officers. It requires patience and persistence.
Q: There have been some major victories to your credit, like ban on Jalikattu & court order against manjha. Tell us despite rulings, how difficult it is to actually get these practices banned, especially as people refuse to cooperate claiming them to be a part of their rituals?
No victory can be credited solely to me. Any lawyer or activist who claims sole victory for any animal rights case isn't being totally honest. For every case we have a committed team. Often several NGOs come together. In every case we have had activists who have researched the ground situation, a strong team of counsels. I am just one of them. When we look at it honestly true Indian culture and tradition is extremely compassionate. We have a large population of vegetarians, we are taught to respect nature and treat animals with compassion. What is perceived as tradition is often not very old and only touted as traditional for financial gains or entertainment. It will take time to change people's minds and show them that treating animals with cruelty is wrong. A court order is one thing. Even with this court order, campaigning is required to ensure that the order is followed.
Q: We are far behind the West when it comes to being animal tolerant. Our pets are not allowed in malls, parks, restaurants, nor is it convenient to take them along when travelling to another city by train or plane. They are treated as 'cargo' even if the owners swear by their discipline. What is your take on that?
Wre we far behind the West? That’s a tough question because in some regards we are and in others we are not. Things are changing in India too. We may not be allowing our pets into the malls but when it comes to tolerance we, in India, have a tradition of being kind and benevolent towards animals and birds. Be it any religion, the crux is to be kind to all living beings. We may have moved away from nature earlier but we are again coming back to our very roots—that is, co-existing with the flora and fauna. I feel India is a more Nature friendly country though we must also open up our malls and public places for pets too.
It soothes my soul to see jungles getting denser - October
Ramesh Pandey is an Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer of 1996 Batch of Uttar Pradesh Cadre. He has wide experiences of working in fields ranging from ecology to economics. He is known for his contributions in conservation and management of wildlife and combating organized wildlife crime. Presently he is working as the Conservator of Forests at Saharanpur.
Q: What are the major challenges faced in protection and conservation of wildlife, especially the organised wildlife crime?
A: The biggest challenge in the protection and conservation of wildlife in states like UP is the biotic pressure, since most of the Protected Areas are in human dominated landscapes and the reserves are heavily coerced with human and livestock presence. As a result, many a times, wild animals do come in contact with the human habitation, which results in man-animal conflicts, being the most urgent emerging challenge in wildlife conservation. Furthermore, lack of trained staff, under staffing, poor infrastructure, insufficient financial support and lack of awareness about the importance of wildlife and Protected Areas amongst the masses are other challenges which managers face in day to day working in the field.
And so far as combating organized wildlife crime is concerned, the major constraints include lack of expertise among forests officials in handling cases having inter-state ramification, poor investigation and monitoring of wildlife cases and lack of modern facilities such as technical surveillance to crack the organized networks in the crime. Besides this the forest staff is traditionally not trained for in-depth scientific investigations and busting organized modules therefore they lack the knack of dealing with organized wildlife crime.
When we started working on Bawaria poachers in 2005 during my stint at Katarniaghat, no recorded history of their cases was available. After working for almost three years, we could know that they were operating for more than four decades in Terai and rampantly killing big cats. The case of Dilipo alia Shanti which had spread over areas of Pilibhit-Kishanpur-Katerniaghat is the correct case to mention here, which unravels the importance of having traces, history sheets, family trees and track records of organized wildlife criminal to fight against it on a day to day basis.
Q: You are credited with initiating combative steps against wood mafia in Saharanpur. Please let us know the magnitude of the problem and ways to tackle it.
A: I must admit that Saharanpur is sensitive in both illicit felling and illegal transportation of timber to Haryana. However, it is also important to emphasise that zero tolerance against forest related crime has always been the priority of the government. Our Forest Minister during his maiden visit to Saharanpur in the month I joined here clearly instructed all officials to take strict action against forest mafias. The support and guidance of our Principal Secretary and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests encouraged us to reinforce our steps in fighting against forest crimes and to work as a team. As a result strong steps like ensuring night patrolling, deployment of manpower, combing of forest areas, arrests of criminals, confiscation of vehicles, imposition of gangster act as well as the suspension of tainted staff were taken in last three months. Consequently, a few results to quote, 16 seized vehicles were confiscated in favour of government, proposal for action under Gangster Act against 7 forest mafia was initiated and to strengthen inter-state coordination between Haryana and UP, an inter-state coordination meeting of forest officials was organized. Moreover, the number of vehicles escaping Haryana without transit permit was also brought down in last two months and stern punitive action against in such cases was taken. We are working as a team, by taking the help and inputs of the Police, Administration and Judiciary, in tackling this chronic problem; we hope to see good results in future.
Q: You have worked successfully for tiger conservation in Dudhwa and terai and also revival of Katarniaghat. What strategies made such feats possible?
A: I feel fortunate to have gotten the opportunity of working in the Pilibhit-Dudhwa-Katerniaghat landscape during 2003 to 2008 in two of my stints. This terai landscape is one of the most productive ecosystems and full of mega faunal species including Tigers. Since this landscape is a human dominated one, the best measure to protect these areas has been to minimize the biotic pressures on the landscape. As soon as you mitigate the biotic pressure, animals start increasing their home ranges and breeding can be discerned very quickly. I noticed this even in case tigers in Katarniaghat, which was a literally ‘written off’ area by the conservationists, and it was sure that no tigers had been left there during that time. Besides this, responding well in time during man-animal conflict was another strategy which worked to our benefit. The last nail in the coffin was action against forest mafias and Bawarias, which disinfested the areas from illegal felling and tiger poaching. At the same time we were strengthening the reserve with motorboats and reviving surveillance circuits which became quite popular amongst tourists. I had already build Chuka Ecotourism Spot in Pilibhit, which was a successful endeavor. I personally feel controlled and well managed tourism also helps in conservation, which can be observed both in Pilibhit and Katarniaghat.
Q: What are the benefits of multilateral environmental agreements which you noticed during your stint at Government of India?
A: Actually there are many issues which require deliberations, resolutions and enforcement at global level, for which countries, the United Nations (UN) and other organizations come together and work towards a common goal. There are many multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) and protocols in force. They focus on certain themes and India is one of the signatories of these conventions. The major MEA include Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), Convention on Biological Diversity, Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals, Basel Convention on the control of Trans-boundary movement of Hazardous Wastes and their disposal, Rotterdam Convention on trade related to hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides, Stockholm convention on Persistent Organic Pollutant, United Framework Convention on Climate Change, United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification etc.
While working as Assistant Management Authority CITES during my stint at Government of India I was exposed to the MEAs and I could realize the importance of accurate and timely interventions and resolutions of the countries in protecting the interest of flora and fauna at the global level. Moreover, small policy change such as those in the Exim Policy of India can do much help in conservation measures than the Indian Forest Act or the Wildlife Protection Act.
Q: Your achievements clearly show that it is not just a job but a passion for you. How did you develop such a strong bond with Nature?
A: It is a difficult question to answer. However, I can say that being a keen observer I found the jungles changing every day, their dynamics always fascinated me and kept me involved in protecting them actively. It is soul soothing to see the jungles getting denser and cubs and fawns thriving.
Q: What is your advice to the people, especially the youth?
A: My advice to the youth is to regularly spend some time with the nature. They must go for treks, stay in jungles, imbibe the serenity of sylvan surroundings and observe the beauty of the wilderness in attempts to understand deeply, how they are essential for the very existence of mankind. At the same time, they should be able to reflect and realize how their quotidian actions can have dire consequences on nature, something which can be learned by being aware and conscious.
Peak winter season ideal to spot migratory birds - September
Q: Every year a large number of migratory birds visit us. What are the areas/places to site them & the ideal period? Also can we do anything to make their stay a pleasant one?
A: Yes it is true that every year migratory birds visit us. These birds can be easily sighted at the various bird sanctuary wetlands. These birds flock the lakes from morning till evening, swim & feed, and then fly off to the nearby fields to rest. With the onset of winters, generally from the month of November till February end or March first week, these birds visit the wetlands. So these are the ideal months to watch them at these bird sanctuaries/wetlands. Their peak population is generally reached during December and January, i.e. when the winter season is at its peak. The bird sanctuary managers prepare their bird sanctuaries for the visit of these feathered guests. The lakes are cleaned of all unwanted weed, the desiltation work of the lakes done to provide a clean water body to these migratory birds. Perch and islands are made for resting of these birds.
There are about 10,000 species of birds in the world, out of which 1300 species of birds are found in India. Around 200 species of birds migrate from Siberia, Mongolia, Western Europe, China, Central Asia etc., travelling at least 10,000 km of distance to reach India. In the Gangetic plains of Uttar Pradesh, these migratory birds get suitable climatic conditions, plenty of food, shelter and safety. Some of the migratory birds that flock these bird sanctuaries & wetlands are Common coots, Common teal, Gadwal, Eurasian wigeon, Red crested pochard, Mallard, Pintail, Shoveller, Goose etc.
Q: What are the ways in which we can help birds flourish in our localities? Also those who keep food and water for birds often complain that beside sparrows, no other bird specie likes to eat grains. Is there some particular food item that can be kept for a variety of birds?
A: The birds can flourish in our localities if safety, home, food and water are provided to them. Nesting materials, nesting boxes, suitable feeding trays, baths, food can be kept for attracting these birds to our homes and gardens. Daily change of water is also required for them. Mostly grains are kept for the granivorous birds, like bulbul, sparrow, munias, doves. The grains used are kakoon, bajra, rice, wheat, maize etc. Some birds are fruit eaters. We should try to plant more trees, especially fruit-bearing ones, to attract these birds and to provide food as well as shelter to them.
Q: You are credited with successful breeding of tortoise/turtles in captivity when they were on the verge of extinction. Please let us know how it was made possible.
A: In the city of Lucknow, Gharial Breeding and Rehabilitation Centre was established in the year 1975 at Kukrail forest area when the population of gharials almost dipped. This Centre helped in reviving the almost lost species of gharial and was a success story. The gharials were bred and rehabilitated in almost natural surroundings and their population was again well established in the Indian Subcontinent.
Apart from gharials, Kukrail Gharial Breeding and Rehabilitation Center also carries out captive breeding and rehabilitation of turtles. Uttar Pradesh is a home to 15 species of turtles/tortoises, out of which 13 species of turtles/tortoises are housed at Kukrail Breeding and Rehabilitation Centre. The endangered species of Sal Kachua, (Batagur Kachuga) was bred for the first time and the only time at Kukrail Centre in 2004. It was a rare occasion of turtles being successfully bred in captivity. The 36 hatchlings of Red crowned turtles or (Tilak dhari turtles) of Sal kachua was the culmination of two decades of painstaking efforts at the Centre. In 1984 some eggs, hatchlings were brought to Kukrail from the Chambal River to be bred in captivity. When these turtles reached adulthood courtship started but did not result in any egg laying. Later I made some changes in the habitat and the enclosure which resulted in laying of eggs by the females of Sal Kachua. These eggs were kept in specially made incubator for incubation, where temperature and humidity were controlled.
One of the pregnant female Sal Kachua was found dead in the pond which was a setback for us. Then I decided to remove the eggs from its oviduct and put them in the incubator for incubation. Two months later hatchlings came out from these eggs also. It is one of the first cases were eggs from a dead turtle have been successfully incubated and hatched. Apart from Sal Kachua, Katahawa Kachua is also bred in captivity at Kukrail Centre (Katahawa Kachua- Nilessonia gangetica,Incubation Period- 270 Days).
These turtles are crucial for a river ecosystem. They reduce water pollution by consuming human and cattle waste. Many rivers in Northern India, particularly Ganga and Yamuna have very high levels of pollution. These were used in Ganga Action Plan also. They are the main scavengers of the riverine ecosystem. Till now 18000 turtles have been released in various rivers for controlling water pollution.
Q: You are also credited with turning the Lucknow Prani Udyan into a solar energy zone. What are the benefits of creating such micro-environments, especially at a place like zoo?
A: Lucknow Prani Udyan has been turned into a solar energy zone with the use of solar power. It is the first zoo in the country to use solar energy. The Zoo has a footfall of more than a million every year which includes people from all sections of the society including students, teachers, politicians, bureaucrats, businessman & senior citizens. The potential of the zoo to create awareness in the society about alternative source of energy is immense. So the solar facility at the zoo will create widespread awareness about various aspects of environmental protection.
With the use of solar power the micro- climate at the Zoo has changed. It will go a long way in bringing about a healthy environment for the animals which will provide clean, healthy, animal friendly surroundings, which in future will encourage breeding and good health for them. The use of solar power will also provide clean and healthy environment for the visitors. It will also help in cutting down of the huge electricity bills.
Q: What is your advice to the youth of today who wish to see more flora & fauna around them but cannot due to growing urbanisation & indifferent attitude of most people, especially during the period when the stray animals & birds have to help their babies survive?
A: Every little step matters, we will always find space to keep water for the birds and there is always space available to plant one more tree. Feel the biodiversity around you and grow with it, your connect with nature will create synergy. It is ultimately going to aid your survival on this planet.” The youth of today are the bright future of our nation.
The conservation of environment and wildlife should be the ultimate goal of the youth because for survival of all species, clean and green environment is required. There is a saying that “we have not inherited this earth from our ancestors but have borrowed it from our children”. We have to provide clean, pollution free, green & resourceful earth to our next generation for whom we are the custodians. We should all join force to plant more and more trees to make the environment green and clean, which will provide habitat for the birds and animals for food, shelter and rearing their babies. It will also help provide creating “Green lungs” for the cities. There is another saying, “If you want to plan for decades, teach the children, if you want to plan for centuries, plant trees.”