“This planet is our only home. Let’s nurture the inherent interest children have in wildlife, so that they are encouraged to become a part of nature conservation movements when they grow up,” says Shekar Dattatri, eminent wildlife photographer and conservationist, about preserving nature and involving children in the process. Here’s Shekar interating with ParentCircle on wildlife conservation.
PC: ‘Save the Tiger’ is about the only conservation programme that received huge response, thanks to social media. But, after a few months of sharing heart-breaking pictures and scholarly articles, the interest fizzled out. How do you think we can get the public to stay involved in conservation past the working of social media?
Shekar Dattatri (SD): Frankly, this is a very tough question! To make a meaningful contribution to wildlife conservation, you have to be one of two things: either a very wealthy philanthropist who funds the right kinds of projects and initiatives, or an extremely dedicated person who takes the time to get well informed about conservation issues and is willing to spend substantial amounts of time and energy to find solutions to problems by working with the Government, as well as with other conservationists. The best thing that the average person who has other priorities in life can do is to encourage children to get interested in natural history and conservation. When this is inculcated at an early age, the interest is carried lifelong, and there is a good possibility that some of those children will get involved in conservation when they grow up. Most children have an inherent interest in wildlife and kindling that further through good books, field trips and documentary films is a very worthwhile thing to do.
PC: Children have a vague idea of the Amazon rainforest destruction and poaching in the Sahara. But they remain clueless about the state of wildlife in their own country. What do you think can be done to increase awareness?
SD: I think the above answer works for this question too!
PC: What do you think are the five key wildlife issues that are of concern today?
- Ecological illiteracy on the part of our political leaders and bureaucrats
- Apathy on the part of the general public
- Needless destruction of wildlife habitats in the name of development
- Poor enforcement of wildlife laws
- Lack of political will to ensure the strict preservation of our remaining forests and wildlife
PC: Very few schools include conservation as part of their curriculum. Even these few lessons are more in the interest of mandatory learning than focussed on sensitising children towards conservation issues. Do you think schools can do better? What would you suggest?
SD: Schools can and should play a vital role in enthusing children about nature by devising more extra-curricular activities such as bird-watching, tree identification, regular talks by experts, small field trips and nature-based competitions.
PC: Do you think collaboration between NGOs involved with wildlife conservation and schools would help in the process?
SD: Yes, definitely.
PC: You’ve been involved with schools and NGOs for this purpose. Could you talk about the work you do with kids and getting them included in the process?
SD: During the last few years, a young colleague - Ramnath Chandrasekhar - and I have conducted several highly interesting and stimulating conservation education programmes based on some of my films. These programmes were mostly conducted in the smaller cities and towns in Tamil Nadu, because children in those places are less exposed to such subjects than students in Chennai. Of course, this effort is only a drop in the ocean, and much more can be done if adequate funding and support are available.
PC: How can children who are passionate about conservation get involved? Not just in volunteering work but also as a career choice?
SD: Today, there are a few excellent Master’s degree courses available in conservation biology, which can lead to a stimulating and meaningful career in wildlife research and conservation. Of course, this may not be for everyone. But even those who opt for other careers can contribute by donating money regularly to good conservation NGOs, and supporting them in other ways. Dedicated and sustained volunteering with the right organisations can also help a great deal.
PC: You’ve talked about the growing interest in wildlife photography among the masses. Children too seem to be drawn to it. How do you think we could get them to look past just taking good pictures and get involved in conservation photography instead?
SD: The excitement in photography comes from taking good pictures, so that’s a good way to start. But along with pretty pictures, it is also important to creatively document conservation issues and publicise them.
PC: On World Wildlife Day, what’s the one message of conservation you want to send out to children?
SD: This beautiful planet is our only home. Nature is wonderful and provides us with everything we need. But nature can only take care of us as long as we take care of nature. It’s time for all of us to become more ecologically aware, active and responsible.
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