Taking up responsibility
Responsibiity to nature and conservation takes the form of eco-volunteering for the author, as he recounts his first experience at a training camp conducted by the forest department of Karnataka and the ecotourism board, followed by his first experience as a volunteer.
Enough philosophy for conserving nature is being shared; it is time for individuals to actually take up responsibility and act. And to do this, I got an opportunity to get myself certified as an ecovolunteer through a unique Volunteer Training Program (VTP), conducted together by the Karnataka Ecotourism Development Board and the forest department.
The forest department of Karnataka and the ecotourism board are enlisting civilians into its fold as volunteers to forge long-term partnerships and provide a glimpse into the department’s wildlife conservation efforts. The week-long programme aims to impart basics of wildlife and conservation with speeches and presentations by naturalists, herpetologists and forest officials, followed by forest trails and overnight stay at anti-poaching camps. (Further details on the programme can be obtained from www.karnatakaecotourism.com and www. junglelodges.com.)
After the completion of the VTP and getting certified as an eco-volunteer, I got an opportunity to be a part of the first crowd management initiative at Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka. During the long weekend holidays in 2014, the forest department anticipated a huge traffic inflow on the national highway NH 67, which passes through the reserve, and that is the reason why this initiative was thought of.
The duties of the volunteers in this crowd management initiative included, among a host of different conservation related activites, to ensure that the NH 67 (Gundlupet – Ooty road), passing through the reserve, would be closed from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. to avoid night-time traffic. Volunteers also stopped vehicles at the reserve entry gates and spoke with the drivers and passengers about the dos and don’ts to be followed inside the reserve. We also went on patrol duties with the forest department staff to monitor the activities along NH 67 and fine offenders, if any.
As the holiday season was in full swing, the inflow of tourists, as expected, was high. Each vehicle was stopped at the forest entry gate, not just for explaining the dos and dont’s, but so that a volunteer could also quickly scan the vehicle for any non-biodegradable litter and request to dispose the same at the Reserve’s entrance gate. We had a challenge communicating with the travellers in multiple languages and even used sign language and sign boards in some cases. We were on duty 24 hours a day; but a rotation policy was in place for the volunteers and we even ensured that neither the wildlife nor the locals are disturbed by our activities. Once the gates were opened in the morning at 6 a.m., we would implement the convoy system to ensure that the speed limits are followed. As wildlife is most active at dawn and dusk, extra precautions were taken during these hours.
We had a good time with the forest department staff – sharing our stories of the metro life and work culture and listening to theirs of hardships and commitment, we learned how these men have sacrificed their time and safety for the welfare of our forests. It was also heart-warming to see that the volunteers’ suggestions for improvement were also listed – a true ‘crowd management’ initiative indeed!
For me, it was a great experience and definitely worth taking out some time from my daily routine to dedicate it to wildlife conservation. Now, I can proudly say that I have personally contributed towards conservation and don’t just sit in the comfort of my home and blame the bureaucrats. But more than this, I value my volunteering, as for an amateur conservationist like me, every moment spent in nature is an opportunity to learn, and this programme did teach me a lot.
This article was first published in the April 2015 edition of Saevus magazine.