Bannerghatta in Bangalore. Borivli in Mumbai. The Ridge in Delhi. Guindy in Chennai - all urban forests that serve as universities for nature education. Survival schools for generations whose values will need to be more in tune with the earth than our own. From such wildernesses young children imbibe gentleness, a sense of community, inner peace.
How can that ant pick up such a big stick? Why do these flowers smell nice? Are crocodiles lizards? When it rains, how do creatures living underground survive? How do snakes dig burrows? (They don't. Instead they take over those made by creatures such as rats!). How do ants talk to each other? How long do tigers live in the wild? These are only a handful of the hundreds of questions lucky people get to answer each year as they embark on adventures of the natural kind in the company of kids.
Spirit of the Jungle
Save the Shark
Last of Asiatic Lions
Hunt for Indian Tiger
The answers we provide tend to involve chemistry, biology and philosophy and are patiently provided by scores of naturalists around the country as they accompany young naturalists on 'Kids for Tigers' walks, treks and discovery camps. Often, when we are unable to provide an answer, we look up books or consult specialists and in the process add to our own knowledge.
I saw Noel de Sa, teacher extraordinaire and National Coordinator for one of India's most ambitious children's tiger protection initiatives, share this knowledge with a dedicated lot of teachers at the Maharashtra Nature Park (fresh and washed by monsoon rains) at Mumbai recently when educationists from 100 Mumbai schools came to participate in a workshop organised by 'Kids for Tigers', the Sanctuary-Britannia Tiger Programme. Soon after, he and Sheila Appa, Coordinator for 'Kids for Tigers' in Bangalore, met with scores of teachers from Bangalore schools. Both confirm that principals are turning out to be among the tiger's most ardent defenders simply by allowing their institutions to become the breeding grounds for tomorrow's green citizens.
By encouraging children to respect nature and to speak up for what is right and good, these children are learning lessons about life itself that will stand them in good stead in the days to come.
The efforts of the one million children we are mobilising to save the tiger are real. Forest guards are being encouraged. Politicians are being petitioned. Parents are being mobilised. Letters are being written to the media. Green attitudes and values are being shaped. At the same time, we are also teaching children about the natural history of the tiger. Apart from morphology (how large, how old etc.) we are familiarising children in 700 schools across the country about tiger behaviour by teaching them lessons observed in the field by scientists such as Dr. Ullas Karanth of Wildlife First! and Dr. Raghu Chundawat, who works with tigers in Panna, M.P. Our rationale is simple: if the kids really want to help tigers, they must KNOW what tigers need to survive.
Being out with kids in the wilderness is an elevating experience. As though by magic, quizzical looks metamorphose into elation and, sometimes, surprise. I love it when kids are surprised. Such is the process of learning that has crafted science itself. Surprise has in fact been the cornerstone of human evolution. Over the past centuries most of our discoveries have resulted from surprise.
Fire, electricity, magnetism, gravity, all were discovered by chance, as was most of our knowledge of medicine. And all such nuggets of information were grasped by active minds, conditioned by humility into believing that there were indeed new lessons to be learned from nature.
Last week at the national park at Borivli, in the company of land crabs, monkeys and birds, we tracked leopards and contemplated the earth and its myriad interrelationships. Free from the clutter, clamour and aggressiveness of urban life, we watched clouds sit on forested hilltops. Less than 15 minutes from the Western Express Highway, we could well have been in Rishikesh, or Mahabaleshwar.
If we want a strong nation, a valuable citizenry, educationists and parents will need somehow to guarantee the children in their charge such quiet experiences. They must not be forced merely to compete for marks, month after month, in grey classrooms.
These are the best years of their lives. Wild magic should be theirs for the asking, not a rare gift to be had only when adults find the time to take them out to experience the wilderness.
Courtesy: Sanctuary Magazine
Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.