Sawai Madhopur: Miles away from their classrooms, playstations and social networking sites, a group of teenaged students from eight cities got a hands-on experience of how to save India’s national animal, the tiger, from the manifold evils that threaten its existence today. Awakened and determined, the group vowed to spread the message.
“I always thought that humans are afraid of tigers but now I have realised it’s the other way round... it’s we who are a threat to them,” Bhoomika S, a student of Sindhi Public School, Bangalore, said, adding that it was the love of spiders and tigers that brought her to the wildlife camp.
“This workshop was an eye-opener for all of us... I’ll make sure to pass on the information and educate my friends and families back home,” the Class 11 student said.
The three-day knowledge workshop-cum-national camp, titled Kids for Tigers, was organised by mobile telephony provider Aircel. An annual event, it is a part of the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative - Save Our Tigers - at the Ranthambore National Park.
It operates in conjunction with Kids for Tigers, an environmentally-inclined education programme run by Sanctuary Asia magazine in schools across India to sensitise children on the plight of the tiger and the environment as a whole. The annual camps began four years ago after Aircel came on board and the eight participants are selected by Sanctuary Asia on the basis of competitions and other events in the eight cities.
For 16-year-old Shimanshu Agrawal, the experience was “unforgettable” as he realised how the whole ecosystem depends on the tiger’s survival.
“The tiger is on top of the food chain, if we don’t save him, the whole ecosystem will be destroyed,” said the only participant from Rajasthan, a student of Bharti Public School in Sawai Madhopur district, which houses the Ranthambore National Park.
“Poaching, deforestation and human settlements are just some of the issues threatening the tiger. I live near the national park and I believe I can educate the people who really matter,” he added.
The participating children came from cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi and Bangalore, and the camp saw activities like park safaris, film screenings and interactive sessions with well-known conservationists and public figures on the conservation of tigers.
Bittu Sehgal, environmentalist and chief of Sanctuary Asia, said that it was of paramount importance that the youngsters are educated about the issue as it is the generation of tomorrow that will lead the nation.
India is home to the world’s largest tiger population, with 1,706 living in the wild across 42 tiger reserves. But the figure is almost a 10th of what it was half a century ago.
Tiger conservation in India began in 1973 with the launch of Project Tiger. Over the years, there has been excellent recovery of the habitat and consequent increase in the tiger population in the reserve areas - from a mere 268 in nine reserves in 1972 to 1,706 in 42 tiger reserves in 2012.
“We need to sensitise the children about the cause,” Sehgal said.
He said his organisation has reached out to hundreds of schools across the country since it first began educating children way back in 2000.
“We are now focussing on children living around national parks because they are the closest to the tigers... we just tell them not to cut trees and save the forest and the tiger will be saved automatically,” Sehgal added.
The consistent hard work has paid off, Sehgal said.
“I am seeing a change now: children these days are aware of the problems that the tiger is facing... they know the basics and just need help with the solution,” he said.
Agreed Brinda Malhotra, Head of CSR at Aircel, who has been associated with Save Our Tigers since its inception in 2008.
“People are realising that they need to give the tigers space and the villagers are willing to move away from national parks,” Malhotra said.
“On our part, we have set up rapid response teams in tiger reserves that provide immediate help to a sick or an injured tiger... we train and counsel communities living near tiger reserves and have also started compensating villagers whose cattle are killed by tigers,” she added.
The Ranthambore National Park is spread over 650sq km and has approximately 50 tigers, including 22 cubs.