Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Snubbed by the Graceful "Mascots" - The Magnificient Tigers of Ranthambore

He turned around to look at us once, dismissed us with a disdainful glance, and walked away, leaving us bristling under the realization that we had just been brushed aside by a 20-month-old tiger "cub". I was numb, not because of fear, but because my childhood dream had just come true. I had seen a tiger in the wild.

The moment is imprinted in my mind forever, and keeps on replaying time and again. Needless to say, tiger is the most elegant, most regal animal ever. The realization that we had come so near to losing these beautiful creatures forever sends shivers down my spine. Still endangered, the Royal Bengal Tiger continues to fight against all odds - the crisis is far from over.

And the authorities are aware of this and are doing their best to reverse the damage. But it is an uphill task. Mr. Yogendra Kumar Sahu, the Conservator of Forest & Field Director, Ranthambore revealed that the greatest threat is of course from poachers. While the orders for tiger skins, claws, and bones usually originate from outside India, local tribes are a part of the machinery. These tribes, especially Mogias, who are hunters traditionally, are highly skilled in tracking and hunting wild animals.

Mr Yogendra Kumar Sahu met us in his office
Now, gradually, efforts are being made to provide them with an alternate way of making a living. Education is being made available to their children so that the tribe can gradually move away from hunting. When asked whether there were any plans to hire Mogias as forest guides, Mr Sahu was clear in his reply. "We cannot take such chances now. That stage is long past," he says. One cannot help but agree with him.

Anish's presence made all the difference
In spite of several ups and downs, things have taken a heartening turn with the tiger numbers increasing slightly. With corporates such as Aircel making tiger conservation a part of their CSR initiative we can expect substantial rise in awareness. A part of Aircel's #SaveOurTigers initiative, the Kids for Tigers Campaign, set up by Dr. Anish Andheria of Wildlife Conservation Trust, is aimed at spreading awareness amongst the children who stay in areas bordering the reserve forest. The cute little van that goes around the villages carries books by writers such as Jim Corbett for the young readers to familiarize themselves with wild animals.

The campaign seems to be quite successful, and as a result children have now turned into wildlife conservators. One delightful example of this was shared by Mr Govardhan, the person who runs the Kids for Tigers campaign in Ranthambore. According to him many times when there is a man-wild animal conflict, he receives calls from these children requesting him to come with the Rapid Response Unit to rescue the wild animal. Several wild animals have been saved because of this vigil.

Rapid Response Unit, a vehicle that is armed with tranquilizers, medicines, trapping equipment is another useful initiative by Aircel. So far a total of 41 vehicles have been donated to various national parks and these vehicles are instrumental in managing man vs. wild animal conflict, not only inside the parks but also in bordering areas and corridors. These vehicles make rescue convenient by ensuring that everything required for rescue is accessible and by reducing the time spent in coordinating the rescue.

"Tiger is just a mascot," Says Mr Sahu. "Efforts should be and are being made to conserve ecosystems, so that the natural balance can be maintained."

Most CSR initiatives are aimed at helping humans directly and are mostly corrective in nature. However, an investment in environment is an investment in future. There should be a healthy balance in initiatives that are aimed at solving a problem and those that contribute towards preventing a problem. Only then can we rest assured that our coming generations will be living in a better world than we inherited - a world where tigers rule the jungles and where humans know how to value what we have been blessed with.   

Monday, April 7, 2014

Bringing up a "Wild" Child

Bringing up a child who is born with an ingrained love for everything natural and wild can be gratifying as well as challenging. Your wild child will often cheer you up with several unexpected "awww" moments, but will also be prone to landing himself or herself, and you, in several tricky situations. My 7-year-old nephew Nishu often ends up doing exactly this.

One of the biggest challenges you may have to face will most likely involve a "pet". You and your wild child may not have the same preferences. Like when one day, out of the blue, I received a call from Nishu. With his infectious enthusiasm he sang into the phone, "Masi, I found a new pet. His name is Dittu." I assumed that it was a dog and asked, "Wow, how big is it and which colour?" "It is very tiny, Masi, and it is completely white, except for its nose and tail, which are pink." I'd never heard of a dog with a pink tail. But before I could say anything, he added, "And its eyes are round and red." Red Eyes??? There was definitely something wrong with the dog. "What breed is it?" "It is a white rat, Masi". I couldn't believe my ears. I don't mind rats, but I don't want one lurking in my home. I pitied my poor sister then, and my fears were soon realized as the rat wrecked a havoc. It nibbled its way out of the case it was kept in, and chewed through the fabric of their beautiful white sofa. My brother-in-law extracted the rat from its comfortable hiding place inside the sofa with much discomfort. They had a tough time explaining to Nishu why he could not keep Dittu as a pet. Nishu being a reasonable child reluctantly agreed. Dittu was soon returned to its previous owners and Nishu's brief relationship with it ended.

But his search for a pet did not. Dogs caught his fancy next and he did extensive research, comparing various breeds based on their size, amount of shedding, trainability, and intelligence. But as my sister and my brother-in-law, both, hold full time jobs, adopting a dog was out of question. But the trio have since found a middle path. They have brought home a fish tank, and it is Nishu's responsibility to feed the fish every day. He knows each fish by name even though we, the grown-ups, can't differentiate one from another...

Another challenge that one may face is the wild child's indiscriminatory love for all living things. One evening Nishu and I were taking a walk in the park when Nishu saw his very first ladybug. He was mesmerized by the beautiful insect and he asked whether he could carry the creature to his garden. I saw no harm in binging home one ladybug, so we held out a leaf to it and patiently coerced the little insect to climb it. We carried it home in the basket attached to Nishu's bicycle, and Nishu's joy knew no bound when the pretty little bug hesitated a bit but then climbed on to one of the plants in the garden. He watched the bug carefully for days, until one day it mysteriously disappeared. Nishu was in tears but then his keen eyes started noticing other insects, and soon centipedes, catterpillars, worms, spiders, mites were finding their way into the garden. While we didn't mind most of them, when one very hungry catterpillar chewed off most of the leaves of my sister's favourite coleus, she knew it was time for another reasoning session, this time with partners-in-crime Nishu and me.

If you are blessed with a wild child, you will also need to be very tactful as the child will most likely have a very sensitive heart. Something as commonplace as a dead spider will send the child into deep contemplation, and you will find yourself explaining complicated concepts such as death, birth, God, and life very early on. Nishu was around five when his first fish died. He was distraught when it was taken out of the tank and buried, and he kept on questioning my sister for days. He was very concerned about how the little fish will find its way back into the tank, and whether its other fish friends were sad that their friend has gone away. Not only did my sister feel helpless as she felt she could never make Nishu feel completely comfortable about the truths of life, she also had to deal with a moody 5-year-old for days.

But at the end of the day, a wild child will help you see the world afresh through the eyes of an inquisitive and innocent nature lover, and all of the above challenges will seem completely worth it. Your trips will be much more fun with your child enjoying the outing as much as you do. You won't have too much trouble sending the child out to play, though you may find it difficult to get him or her to come back in. School projects that involve nature will be much more fun as the child will take equal interest in them. Your child will take on new hobbies every day and most of those will be for the greater good. Nishu has recently started growing plants; his first ones are tomato plants he grew from the seeds he found under the cap of Kissan ketchup bottle, following the instructions on Kissan's website. He also motivated us to conduct a workshop called "Pot a Plant" for his friends. And he has also started bird-watching.

The wild child's love for nature will most likely mean that he or she will grow up into a conscientious model citizen. It will be easy to get him to develop habits that are environment friendly, such as switching out lights when leaving a room, saving water, and not littering. A wild child is God's own gift to you – so the next time your child starts digging and playing in the mud, don't be too quick to stop him or her. Sit and observe for some time, and you may discover that you are indeed blessed with a wild child.