Founded in 2009 and based in Karnataka, Vanamitra involves a wide range of communities in wildlife conservation.
Photo Courtesy: Vanamitra.
An Indian rock python had swallowed a jackal and was resting in an agricultural field in Bhadravathi taluka in Karnataka. A large crowd of villagers had gathered around. Forest Department officials were quickly summoned but on seeing the sheer size of the reptile, trained officials expressed their reluctance to move it. The rescue operation was finally undertaken by the field staff with Vanamitra members guiding and instructing them over the phone.
Renowned field biologist and conservationist extraordinaire George Schaller says, “I learned long ago that conservation has no victories, that one must retain connections and remain involved with animals and places that have captured the heart, to prevent their destruction. I am sometimes asked why, given a world that is more wounded and scarred, I do not simply give up, burdened by pessimism. But conservation is my life, I must retain hope.”
It is little victories such as these achieved in the field, when local community members and officials are empowered, that provide hope to the many organisations working to protect wildlife. Vanamitra, founded in 2009, is one such organisation based in Karnataka, whose mission is to enroll and engage the common man in conservation, with a strong foundation in spreading awareness about native Indian practices that have held our wildlife in good stead over the years. A core group of wildlife lovers brought together researchers and specialists from various sectors to address the pressing urgency to protect our wildlife through multiple forms of intervention.
As the wind under the wings for those interested in safeguarding our incredible wilds and its denizens, Vanamitra conducts education and awareness drives, biodiversity studies for students and a wide spectrum of government officials, manages human-wildlife conflict, rehabilitates rescued wild animals, and keeps a check on illegal wildlife trade. In the past three years, the reach of their programmes has expanded to Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and New Delhi. Jaishankar V., Trustee, Vanamitra, says, “Urban wildlife, which plays an important role in the limited space, is ignored by the forest department, biologists and common people. As our greed increases, we lose our green cover and the wildlife which depends on them, Growing native species of plants in cities will create lung spaces for humans and habitat for the wildlife. If we don't take the right steps towards conversation now, our future generations will curse us for destroying our planet in the name of so called ‘development’.
A conscious decision to discourage ‘snake rescues’ in the areas where they work, drew amazing response from the locals. People gradually understood that giving snakes the right of way is way more sensible than ‘sanitising’ the area of snakes. Sustained efforts by Vanamitra made them realise the role snakes play in the ecosystem by keeping a check on rodent populations, and they understood that coexistence is a much more viable solution. Vanamitra is also working with airport authorities to reduce accidental bird strikes and with farmers to promote organic crops.
K.N. Suresh Kumar, Founder Trustee, Vanamitra, says, “We have sensitised more than 25,000 individuals on various aspects of wildlife conservation. Understanding the importance of engaging with state machineries and stakeholders in the conservation efforts we undertake in both rural and urban areas has enabled us to bring many locals into our fold.”
But there are challenges galore.
Vanamitra has reunited 12 leopard cubs with their mothers, who were separated by villagers as they didn’t want them in the area, with support from the state Forest Department. Seeing their pugmarks together later provided gratification, but the threat of villagers, and challenges created due to ignorance and insensitivity looms.“
We are a country of a billion people. The diversity of our wildlife is incredible. Conflicts are bound to increase if we do not learn to coexist. Conservation and peaceful coexistence has always been an integral part of our culture. It is in our genes. Our ancestors practiced it. But somewhere down the line, a gap was created in the flow of ancestral knowledge. The more we fill that gap through community education and cultural sensitisation to connect people back to nature, the more the number of people who will stand up for their ecological rights and those of their future generations,” says Suresh.
K.N. Suresh Kumar and Jaishankar V.