Home Conservation Field Reports Two Years With Mud On Our Boots

Two Years With Mud On Our Boots

Two Years With Mud On Our Boots

When the Sanctuary Nature Foundation launched the Mud on Boots Project in January 2017, I was several shades more naive than I am today. Perhaps that was for the better, because I’m quite certain that if I had an inkling of the enormous amount of commitment, coordination and grit that the project would grow to demand from our small team, I would never have suggested it in the first place. But as it were, I was clueless, optimistic and entirely zealous about creating a project that could epitomise the Sanctuary philosophy of handing megaphone and resources to the “little guys” doing big things for wildlife conservation.

It would be untruthful of me to say that the Mud on Boots Project is an unerring success. We have faltered time and again – dropped the ball on campaigns, overestimated our influence, overpromised our reach, grown disenchanted with government bureaucracy, been short of funds, tardy with donor updates, lazy with paperwork, frustrated with the snail’s pace of positive change, and at times lost focus on our objectives. Yet, we have come through in many other ways. We have courted and embraced collaborations with a host of organisations, doggedly pursued ambitious opportunities for our Project Leaders, ensured that grant money always reached the right place at the right time, kept our promise of flexibility, unveiled invisible conservation issues to the public, remained deeply reverent of science, and always corrected our course when led astray.

Over the past two years, 17 Project Leaders and two small grantees from nine different states in India have directly received almost 50 lakh rupees to continue and grow their wildlife conservation work.  Not to mention media coverage, capacity building workshops, exposure trips, and advocacy support.  This February, 13 of these grassroots conservationists “graduated” from the Mud on Boots Project, and five new Project Leaders were welcomed to our family. Here are key updates from our ranks:

Photo: Pradip Krishen

New Project Leaders

Shiv KUmar
Himachal Pradesh

Nominated by: Munmun Dhalaria, National Geographic Explorer

A forest guard who works in the remote Lahaul Forest Division, Shiv has been protecting and documenting the incredible biodiversity of this region for the past 14 years. Shiv is interested in human-wildlife co-existence and conflict mitigation, particularly between snow leopards, brown bears and the local community in Spiti. With Sanctuary’s support he will expand his outreach and community awareness work on these issues.

Malhar Indulkar

Nominated by: Nityata River Otter Conservancy

Through relentless documentation, community outreach workshops and persistent campaigning against unsustainable forms of fishing such as dynamite and bleach fishing, 25-year-old Malhar is working to protect the smooth-coated otters of the Tillari river along the Maharashtra-Karnataka border. His focus on this flagship river species, has a beneficial cascade effect on freshwater ecosystems.

Sunil Harsana

Nominated by: Dipani Sutaria, Independent Ecologist

The sole flora conservationist on our roll call, Sunil is a resident of the sacred Mangar forest in Haryana.He is working to enable the long-term protection of this vulnerable forest, generating information about the biodiversity of the area and increasing appreciation for its ecological value amongst urban and rural youth!

Bhuvaneshwara H.C.

Nominated by: Dr. Meghna Krishnadas, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

The son of a Range Forest Officer, Bhuvan is working to maintain the ecological integrity of the Bisle-Charmadi landscape, which provides the only link between the Kuduremukha Tiger Reserve and Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary. Bhuvan focuses on four umbrella species; the small-clawed otter as a flagship for conserving hill streams, the Nilgiri marten as a basis to maintain canopy integrity and forest structure, the lion-tailed macaque to conserve tree diversity and structural connectivity, and Malabar Pied Hornbills (MPH) to conserve fruiting trees as well as old and tall trees in plantations and farms.

Field Trips for Uras and Sajal

In Valparai. Project Leader Sajal Madhu learnt about human-elephant conflict mitigation strategies from scientists of the Nature Conservation Foundation. Photo: Harishvara Venkat

In early March, two “graduating” Project Leaders went on two very different and very impactful field trips.

Uras Khan, a goatherd from Rajasthan who is interested in natural history and conservation tourism, found his way to the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. Here, he spent a week shadowing Sanctuary Wildlife Service Awardee 2018 Govardhan Meena and learning from him how to conduct successful community outreach and sensitisation workshops on wildlife conservation.

From Chhattisgarh, social and environmental activist Sajal Madhu made his way to Valparai, Tamil Nadu, to spend a few days with scientists from the Nature Conservation Foundation, learn about their successful human-elephant conflict mitigation projects, and explore steps that he can implement back home in Chhattisgarh where human-elephant conflict has reached the boiling point. Though Sajal’s term with the Mud on Boots Project was to end in February 2019, we have taken the decision to continue our formal association with him for another year.

This stunning snow leopard image taken by Project Leader Shiv Kumar is one of the first clear images of this elusive cat from the Lahaul Forest Division that was not obtained through a camera trap. Shiv spent eight years in pursuit of such an opportunity. Photo: Shiv Kumar

Naturalist Training for Idu Mishmi Youth

In the first week of March, we collaborated with Dr. Sahil Nijhawan (see page 24) to facilitate a naturalist training workshop in Roing, Arunachal Pradesh, for 10 youths from the Idu Mishmi tribe. Sanctuary’s Head of Natural History, Science and Photography Dr. Parvish Pandya, and ornithologist Dr. Asad Rahmani led the workshop.

The Dibang valley is a magnet for birders, who come here from across the world to tick “lifers” off their list. However, most such travelers bring bird guides from outside the region to lead their trips. This workshop is one in a series of capacity building exercises to train participants to be competent nature guides and become stakeholders in nature tourism in their home region.

Old Equipment, New Owners

Fledgling birdwatchers and guides from the Idu Mishmi community practice their bird identification skills at the beautiful Jiya grassland on the outskirts of Roing town, Arunachal Pradesh. Photo: Cara Tejpal

We’re finding deserving new homes for your old equipment! Over the past few weeks, individuals from Delhi, Mumbai, Goa and Bengaluru have donated their old (but in good shape) binoculars and cameras to the Mud on Boots Project. Each piece of equipment is serviced and re-homed with a grassroots conservationist who can make the most of it! A big thank you to Meesha Holley, Tarini Pal, Pankaj Singh, Karan Tejpal, Sachin Gowda, Vamshi Bandi, Anuroop Krishnan, Sara Mahdi, Vydhehi Kadur, Vaidyanathan R. and Arpit Parekh for their donations.

GIB Campaign Update

The protection of grasslands is crucial to the survival of not just the GIB but also other specialist species such as the endangered Lesser Florican. Photo: Gobind sagar Bhardwaj

Sanctuary has been spearheading a public awareness campaign for the conservation of the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard in collaboration with The Corbett Foundation and Conservation India. The campaign was launched on December 7, 2018 and has given rise to an unprecedented wave of public support for the conservation of the species. It has also spurred action at various levels, as outlined in the last issue of Sanctuary.

Since then, the central government has announced the Great Indian Bustard as the mascot for the 13th UN Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species, which is scheduled to be held in Gujarat in February 2020.

On February 21, 2019, the Wildlife Institute of India hosted a “Sensitisation Workshop on GIB Conservation” at the WWF-India auditorium in New Delhi, in partnership with a number of organisations including the Sanctuary Nature Foundation. All key conservation concerns regarding the GIB were addressed at the workshop, with special focus on the need to mitigate threats posed by overhead powerlines and the importance of conservation breeding. The WII is expected to sign an MoU with the Houbara Breeding Centre in Abu Dhabi to kickstart the latter soon. The potential denotification of GIB sanctuaries from where GIBs have vanished was also brought up, and it was unanimously agreed that these must be safeguarded for other grassland species and, potentially, future reintroduction of GIBs.

On February 22, 2019, the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy (MNRE) issued a circular to wind farm operators and developers, the Secretary of the Ministry of Power, and the Principal Secretaries (Energy) of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Telangana. The circular directs private wind farm operators and power transmission agencies to collaborate with relevant state governments and the Wildlife Institute of India to “identify critical power transmission lines and wind energy farms passing through the Great Indian Bustard (GIB) habitats in Rajasthan and Gujarat...” and to “accordingly take up risk mitigation measures against bird hits like putting up bird diverters on the conductors, painting of vane tips of the wind turbine, etc.” This is the first acknowledgment by the MNRE of the grave threat posed by power lines to the GIB since the launch of the campaign, and is a positive step towards addressing this issue. How quickly agencies and operators respond to the directive remains to be seen.

After receiving approval from the Rajasthan state government, WII has also started work to satellite tag four GIBs from the Desert National Park. The tags will allow scientists to monitor the birds and provide information on their movement.

Sadly, despite regular sighting of female birds, the sole male Great Indian Bustard in Kutchh, Gujarat has not been seen since September 2018. This particular male was one of three chicks that were born in 2016 at a site that had been painstakingly restored by the Forest Department. The Corbett Foundation had worked as the knowledge partner on this project. Its disappearance is a cause for concern, but scientists are hopeful that it may just have gone away in search of food as the monsoon failed last year. “If the male is alive, it will surely return to the lek area this monsoon,” says Devesh Gadhvi of TCF, “If not, then possibly the GIB story will end in Gujarat unless some quick and special measures are taken by the government.”

Project Leader Malhar Indulkar is working to protect the riverine habitat of smooth coated and small clawed otters along the Tillari and Terekhol rivers in Maharashtra, where they are threatened by unethical fishing practices, ignorance and pollution. Photo: Malhar Indulkar

Author: Cara Tejpal, First published in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXIX No. 4, April 2019.


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