A unique library project in the Pench tiger reserve is hoping to help the cause of nature and wildlife conservation by raising the literacy and awareness levels of the children in the community.
As per the National Tiger Conservation Authority only 1411 tigers are left in India which is less than half of the 3642 tigers as per the census 2001-2002. The situation is no doubt alarming. If the trend continues, tigers will soon be a thing of the past and will only be seen in pictures.
So, what are we doing about the situation? Is worrying and saying “only 1411 tigers left, save them” enough? There are only a few who take the effort to go out of their way to make a difference, Conservation Wildlands Trust (CWT) is one such organisation, with a mission “to protect in perpetuity sensitive habitats by engaging and educating local communities as custodians of their natural environment.” A community-based initiative that works toward regeneration of forests in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, the trust is taking the long term route to saving the tiger and its forest home.
Conservation Wildlands Trust has started an initiative called E-Base which serves as a classroom for the students from the many villages surrounding the reserve and the visiting tourists. “Our objective is to create a fraternity of champions of sustainability in these villages to help the communities adopt sustainable practices in the long run, which in turn will help protect the tiger’s home,” Pooja Choksi, who heads the E-Base Project, says. Armed with an environmental curriculum, that focuses on issues such as water, energy, biodiversity, waste and climate change, the trust makes environmental and conservation studies hands-on and practical.
Getting the kids involved
“The situation can’t change in a day. It requires time. The children that reside on the fringes of the Pench Tiger Reserve will grow up and play an important role in conserving the wildlife. We are educating and preparing them for that,” she says.
The E-Base, which runs completely on solar energy, is where the trust conducts various workshops, exhibits, reading sessions, school projects etc. for students living in the Pench region. Located in the Interpretation Centre at the Turia Gate of Pench Tiger Reserve, Seoni, M.P, the E-Base program has involved around 1,200 students so far in its various initiatives.
It wishes to highlight the link between forest conservation and water scarcity, food security and land degradation. Simultaneously, the trust wishes to instill a sense of wonder, respect, understanding and concern for nature in the students and the general public.
Using the E-Base library to conserve the tigers’ home
The villages in the region of Pench have few middle schools, and a library is unheard of; resulting in a considerable impact on their literacy levels. A semi mobile E-Base library will encourage the students to read as books will be very accessible.
An education is also almost incomplete without the inclusion of a gamut of books. Through a robust reading program and a choice of books on biodiversity, science, environmental conservation, Gondi folktales and encyclopedias, in both, Hindi and English, the library will augment the literacy level and the students’ general awareness and knowledge of their surroundings and its relation to the world.
“We’ve learnt and read about the tiger and the importance of its forest home. These students haven’t had the chance to read these wonderful books. A library will create a wealth of knowledge in these students which we hope translates into action to preserve the forest that sustains us,” says Choksi.
The biggest threat
“The biggest threat to the wildlife is humans. Habitat destruction, fragmentation and other effects of human activities like industrial and residential development,” she says
Another threat is poaching. As per the investigation carried out in 1993-94, 36 tiger skins and 667 kilos (1470 pounds) of tiger bones were seized in northern India, (Source)
“Though it has just been a little over 2 years, the impact is small but significant. Children have started asking questions and have become more curious about the wildlife around them,” Choksi says.
The curriculum that focuses on issues related to water, waste and energy has also made these kids aware of their surroundings and how they can contribute to improve the situation. The students have begun realizing their footprint on their surroundings. A small example of the impact the E-Base projects have had is that students now consciously manage their waste. They know how to compost and now also manage their plastic waste.
“Conserving forests and preserving wildlife is not only about the generic practice of ‘protection’. Education is the strongest tool conservation has, and it is only recently that people have understood this. Conservation cannot take place in isolation; it requires a dynamic intersection of sustainable livelihoods, education and the likes. Educational interventions will take long to show their worth and one has to be patient while working in such a field and such a landscape. Village life is completely different from what you are used to in the cities. There will be connection problems, lack of transport facilities and other such issues which would just delay your work,” she says.
Choksi also believes that you constantly have to keep trying as changing a situation as severe as this takes time.
How can you help?
The library is being crowd-funded and is in its last week of raising funds. You may contribute towards the fund for the E-Base library and donate books that are no longer used by you.
E-Base is an example of how you can contribute to the environment with the skills that you have. You don’t need to live in jungles or play with tigers. A small step can make a big difference.
To know more about the work of Conservation Wildlands Trust, visit their website here.