Photo: Sanctuary Photo Library.
He is just 13 years old, but Madhav has known Bittu Sahgal, who spoke to him in Mumbai, since he was six years old. He came into the conservation fold through Kids for Tigers, the Sanctuary Tiger Programme. As a child he polished shoes, delivered packages and even demanded a toll from all visitors to his home so he could raise money to save the tiger. Before he was 10 years old, this amounted to Rs. 1.65 lakhs! All the money was handed over to Kishor Rithe of the Satpuda Foundation with a request: “Kishor Uncle, use this to directly protect tigers.” His mission is on-going.
What got you interested in wildlife conservation and the tiger?
I saw my first tiger when I was two. As she turned to face our jeep, my mother tells me that the moon rose quietly behind her and in that moment I fell in love with the tiger. A few years later I learnt that the tiger was an endangered species and I was sad that perhaps my younger brother would never get to see one. That got me thinking about what I could do to save the tiger.
The tiger. The polar bear. The blue whale. The giant panda. All very popular animals. Has the strategy of focusing on the charismatic failed?
The strategy has not failed. It has been poorly executed. It has to reach the point where every child in every corner of the world knows that these are symbols of a changing, dying world. Many kids when they see ‘WWF’ think ‘wrestling’ not ‘wildlife’. Why is this? This is what we need to change.
What do you feel India’s Prime minister should be doing about climate change?
The Prime Minister needs to be more vocal about climate change and by this I mean speaking up for the environment in small ways and not only in big ways. For example, when the BMC proposed to widen Napean Sea Road in Mumbai by cutting down trees, many concerned citizens tried to propose a compromise to save the trees. Our voices were not heard. Even though it was just one street, I wish the Prime Minister had been able to speak for us then. I realise he is busy but he needs to make time for a few small issues, which he can use to draw attention to environment problems. Just like he reacts when farmers commit suicide or people die, he must react strongly when trees are cut down or an animal is poached. Climate change can only be combated if we take both big and small steps.
If you could control their actions, what would you have adults do in terms of planet management in the next 10 years?
This would be my plan for adults: Consume less, waste less, educate more and help in every way because every little step counts. To quote Mother Teresa: “We feel that what we do is only a drop in the ocean but without it the ocean would be one drop less.”
Photo: Harshad Barve.
Describe your most moving nature experience?
I cannot choose any one. I have been moved by the magic of nature many times. My first sighting of a tiger in Kabini (heart stopping), the serenity of the Athirapally Vazhachal forest in the afternoon (calming), watching three lionesses hunt for wildebeest in the Masai Mara (thrilling), my first rainbow at the gushing Victoria Falls in Zambia (amazing)…
What do you feel that young people can do to slow down or prevent the ecological catastrophes being foisted on you by my generation?
The most important thing is for us to speak up and make ourselves heard by your generation. Our priority is to make you understand that the world you are changing, for better or worse, is the one that we will inherit. My generation needs to be more educated, less apathetic and less passive.
Do you think that your generation will grow up just as irresponsible as mine, or will they collectively wake to threats, such as climate change and biodiversity loss, that loom large?
My generation will not have the luxury to be irresponsible. For us climate change and biodiversity loss will not be theories, they will be our reality. They already are.
What is written into your personal future in terms of your life goals?
I want to make an impact on the world’s carbon footprint by working actively to reduce it. I want to do this by making changes in my own life and using my voice to help others make the change too. I want to be a director and use film as a way of exploring and communicating my thoughts and ideas.
Do you have hope for the future?
Yes I do. I see world governments, activists and the media trying more and more to involve us and educate us. This has to be the key to effective action. I think it’s a future worth fighting for.
First published in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXX No. 5, October 2010.