The United Nations marked May 22, The International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) to increase awareness about the several issues that plague the ecological diversity of planet earth. Across the globe, there are people fighting to save what is left of the ever diminishing biodiversity. In Goa too there are a number of people who have taken up the yoke to fight and save the Goan ecology. NT BUZZ brings to you some of the young guns in this arena
Janice Savina Rodrigues |NT BUZZ
Every year we lose out on acres of forests and grasslands in a bid to develop the given area’s economy. Very rarely do we realise that along with these gigantic trees we also lose a number of spiders, butterflies and ant species that are endemic to that particular area. According to the UN, over 50 per cent of world’s plant species and 42 per cent of all terrestrial vertebrate species are native to a specific country and do not naturally exist elsewhere. And some of these species go extinct even before we can discover them.
This is the plight of biodiversity all over the globe, be it the Amazon rainforests in America, the Congo Basin or savannahs in Africa, or the Western Ghats closer home. There are researchers, environmentalists and scientists striving to fight and save the ever diminishing diversity we see around, and closer home too these are very active. Here are a few youngsters who have taken up the yoke to preserve and conserve the diversity we see around us in their own small ways.
Dharwadkar, 27, is associated with the Foundation for Environment Research and Conservation, where he is one of the founder members. Currently working on the amphibians found in Goa, conducting surveys in the monsoons across different habitats in the state, Omkar takes up projects on biodiversity and through these he provides a platform and exposure to young aspirants in the field.
His journey began with his school’s Nature club and as his interest in the environment grew, he began spending more time in the field, meeting people working in the field and it was then that he realised the perils of Goa’s wildlife. “And seeing that Goa’s wildlife is under-documented I began with documentation so that we know what we have to conserve,” says Omkar.
Though he says Goa’s wildlife is presently stable for some species, he fears that “with forests degrading year after year we could see some habitat specific species disappearing from Goa in the near future.”
Ask him what he would like the future generation to do and motivate them to take up the cause of wildlife conservation, Omkar replies: “One needs to be passionate about it as it is not as high paying as conventional jobs. One of the reasons youngsters need to take up this career is that we are fast losing our natural resources and heritage and it is the younger generation that can make a difference.”
Rutuja Rajendra Kolte, 27, is a PhD student at the Goa University’s Department of Botany. She is an angiosperm plant taxonomist (a botanist who groups organisms into categories) whose research topic is ‘Taxonomic and distributional studies on herbaceous endemic plants of lateritic plateaus of Goa and South Konkan.’ Apart from this Rutuja is keen on documenting plants of Goa and the surrounding region, collating traditional knowledge about plants from locals, plant-animal interaction, and contributing towards biodiversity conservation.
She is one of the few women in research, and sometimes gender does play truant in the field at least in the beginning, “I have noticed that initially people doubt the efficiency of women to carry out field work but after observing our involvement and dedication in the field they develop confidence and reliability in us. Though we do get a lot of respect and support to carry out our work, we do face some safety and cultural limitations,” she says.
Having worked on lateritic plateaus, she says: “They are treated as barren lands and used for various anthropogenic purposes. Goa is rich in biodiversity but the sad part is we are on the verge of losing real treasure. I have been residing in Goa since 2013 and in the last five years I have witnessed tremendous developmental changes in Goa. In the pursuit of development we have deprived the plants and animals from their own habitats.”
She says biodiversity research is an enthusiastic field and to be a good wildlife researcher or field researcher one needs to have an open mind, communicate on a regular basis and enlighten others with updated information. “As a woman researcher I would like more girls to take up wildlife as an area of research and not give up on their work,” says Rutuja.
Kedar Marathe, 25, works as a wildlife rescuer and research volunteer with SAWE (Study and Awareness of Wildlife & Environment), Animal Rescue Squad and Mugger Tales (A recent initiative by SAWE that focuses on the human – crocodile interaction in Goa).
His experience with conservation has taken him to the length and breadth of the state, and he feels the lack of awareness is the main cause for the loss in biodiversity. “If the right conservation measures are taken up and the level of acceptance by the people towards their surroundings and the biodiversity is strengthened with proper awareness, I believe that wildlife in Goa will flourish and the day won’t be far when Goa is considered a beacon of wildlife along with being one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world,” he says sounding hopeful.
He says that our current situation and with the rate at which we are annihilating the environment, it should be at the individual level that environmental conservation be made a mandate. “It doesn’t matter on what scale you’re doing it, it starts from your house. One tends to oversee the fact that as humans we need the biodiversity around us for our very own survival. We’re all interconnected. It is vital for our very existence that the environment and wildlife around us be healthy and functional,” he says.
Hanuman Gawas, 24, is a research associate at the Mhadei Research Center and conducts research activities to help conserve wildlife, spreadawareness of the need for conservation and host field workshops for children and students. His recent projects include studying ecology and human-wildlife conflicts with the sloth bear in the Bhimghad Wildlife Sanctuary and surrounding areas, camera trapping at the Chorla Ghats, long-term bird life monitoring and documentation of other fauna specially Herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians).
He believes people are well aware of the destruction already caused in nature and that the younger generation is willing to come forward with new ideas to conserve wildlife. He says that up till now the work done towards wildlife is just a small percentage of the actual task that should be carried forward on a long term basis. “But for that we need more contribution from the enthusiastic youth. A career in wildlife is not just a source of one’s livelihood but also your contribution to the same nature which you survive in. It’s your time to pay back,” he says.
Fun trips to the forests in his childhood are what got him hooked to wildlife. He says that 10 years ago people at any encounter with wild animals, be it a small amphibian, reptile, bird or a large mammal, people would hunt down the animal, as there was a very low tolerance towards wildlife but now people aim at rescuing animals, identifying them and trying to give them a habitat they actually need. He believes we can achieve a lot if we take the right steps today and work at the grass root level. “The focus should be on all kinds of niche, habitats, and ecosystems. At the end we have to give our best to the nature, because whatever goes around comes around, that’s nature’s nature…”
Dattaram Mahesh Phadte, 25, is a founder member and president of the Environment Conservation and Research Organisation (ECROIndia). Apart from that he also engages youth in environment protection and conservation by promoting research-based projects. He has also been a team leader for a few Biodiversity Survey Assignments of the Goa State Biodiversity Board and the ongoing Campus Biodiversity Documentation and Nature Interpretation Program for Deccan Fine Chemicals Private Limited at their Goa Campus since October 2017.
Having been an activist fighting illegal tree-felling and animal poaching in the state, he graduated in Zoology and moved to Pune to pursue a Master’s Degree in Environment Science and Technology. This was the turning point, “It is here that I learnt about a thin line between human development and the environment, a thin line known as Sustainable Development. In simple words the concept of sustainable development actually inspired me to further explore this field and take it up as a serious career.”
Due to efforts like those of Dattaram, the youth are now getting aware of the current scenario and a lot of students are becoming nature enthusiasts and some have even ventured into research based activities.
Environment conservation or its components like wildlife, forests and natural resources is a multidisciplinary field and requires participatory efforts of people from various walks of life. “It involves scientific research along with education and awareness programmes. Environment conservation is an upcoming field and has a lot of potential in terms of making a career. I would advise people to identify their interests by exploring the field’s various branches and find a mentor,” he says.
Pronoy Baidya, 29, from the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, works on insects primarily ants and tries to understand their importance in the world. He also works with birds and their habitats, trying to understand their distribution patterns in Goa and devising conservation strategies for protecting their habitats as coordinator of Wetlands International’s Asian Waterbird Census Initiative.
When asked what sparked his interest in the field, Pronoy says: “My love for birds and a very good mentor in Vaibhav Chindarkar, professor at Government College Sanquelim, is what kickstarted my dormant passion for wildlife research.” His interest took a serious turn when he was on a team that was monitoring and surveying Navelim wetland in Bicholim, now declared as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area.
“The need of the hour is for more youngsters to get into wildlife and environment conservation through active and scientific research so that various government bodies have enough information to base their policy decisions on; while actively engaging with the industrial sector in the state to help them in devising various biodiversity and environment management strategies,” he says.
Pronoy says Goa is lucky to be endowed with rich diversity of flora and fauna; and with maximum area under forest cover, we should be proud of the special biodiversity wealth that has been bestowed upon us by our predecessors. “While many in the present generation are despondent with respect to the future of our environment and wildlife, I am very optimistic that this trend will be replaced with positivity by our constant efforts of bringing people closer to nature, by making them appreciate their immediate surroundings and making them understand the importance of green space. Ten years down the line, I see a more aware and educated society in Goa who will take pride in protecting and conserving the state’s wildlife and green cover,” he says.
Harshada Gauns, 24, from the Arannya Environment Research Organization and the Goa Bird Conservation Network works with a focus on birds, butterflies, ants, amphibians, reptiles and mammals and data collection of flora. She also contributes to outreach programmes in educational institutes and among general public.
Though her work is extensive, she says that she has faced gender bias when it comes to research. “Problems of compatibility like we cannot go in forest alone, or people usually hesitate to take a female candidate on field especially during night trails; working with male colleagues for full time by compromising personal space which is required at times.”
Harshada believes that the quality of human life depends on the health of the environment and youngsters have to conserve and sustainably use resources which nature provides for free. “And to make that happen one has to get educated and sensitize other people about the importance of nature. And this can be only achieved when more people get involved especially women because change in society starts from home and we being homemakers can contribute more than a man can,” she says.
She believes that over the last five years if it has been seen that people are getting more sensitized towards wildlife and environment health. Ten years down the line we will have more people involved in this field who will contribute to document and conserve flora and fauna of Goa.