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A conversation about conservation- Karthikeyan S.

Karthik started his foray into the natural world even as a student. After working with WWF-India as an Education Officer for 13 years he joined Jungle Lodges and Resorts Ltd. as the Chief Naturalist. Over the last 30 years, he has been educating and creating awareness among the young and old alike on various aspects of natural history through nature camps, talks, and other nature-based activities. Many of his photographs have been published in newspapers and magazines as also in several books on butterflies, amphibians, mammals, birds, ants, arachnids, trees and climbers. He also has over 50 technical publications and over 100 popular articles to his credit. He has authored The Fauna of Bangalore, a field guide titled Discover Avenue Trees and co-authored a book called Ideas for Outdoors-Plants for school children. Karthik is Carl Zeiss Wildlife Conservation Awardee and a die-hard educationist who has been blogging on natural history for 10 years on www.wildwanderer.com. Karthik continues to conduct training programmes for budding naturalists, thus creating a band of young naturalists, many of whom have also taken up to conservation and education.

Q1) How long have you been in the field of conservation education and what made you take it up?

I was initiated into natural history by one of my teachers when he suggested that we take up bird watching as a hobby. The year was ca 1982. This was just the beginning. A few years later, I volunteered for WWF-India as an instructor in their Nature Camps. A decade later, I had the good fortune of joining this esteemed organisation. This gave me an opportunity to reach out to a larger audience through the Nature Clubs of India Programme. Activities like nature walks, talks, film screening, programmes for teachers kept me occupied. In the meanwhile, a like-minded group of us were also busy running a neighbourhood nature club and published a newsletter with the team among other initiatives. This newsletter was distributed to a 100 schools free of cost. All these activities kept me busy.

And, the thought as to why I took to conservation education perhaps never occurred to me. However, I am certain about one thing – I saw an urgent need around me and fulfilling that need gave me immense satisfaction. I continued to indulge in the same with greater enthusiasm and conviction. I realised much later that all my efforts were towards – what we know today – as conservation education…to students and adults alike.

Pic 1: Conservation education is an urgent need

Q2) What is conservation education according to you?

Education that creates a sense of awe among the audience about Nature at large. Education that instills a sense of appreciation and respect for fellow denizens leading to an understanding of the impact of one’s own action on the well-being and existence of the cohabitants on this planet. All this then ideally leading to judicious use of resources and therefore the thrust on conservation; this engagement should be a long standing one.

Q3) How important is conservation education?

Conservation education enables and nurtures critical thinking that is required to understand the interdependence of species and the complexities of environmental / ecological problems. Conservation education also encourages people to act on their own to conserve natural resources and use them in a responsible manner. Therefore, in today’s context more than ever, where we are struggling to manage resources sustainably, it assumes great relevance.

Pic 2: Conservation education encourages people to think

Q4) According to you, should it be made imperative to have conservation education as a subject in our educational institutions? If yes, what component of conservation education should be included for the institutions?

It makes most sense to include conservation education in school curricula either as a separate topic or infused into the existing ones; it could even simply be an extracurricular activity. Having said that, it is important to make it interesting, intriguing and relevant in order to see the desired results. Else, it will remain just another subject to be studied for the exam only to be forgotten soon after. Application of the learning should be encouraged and enabled; the true value and importance of Nature needs to be realised and understood, beyond its monetary value.

Q5) According to you, is conservation education an integral part of conservation itself? If yes, how do you think it will have an impact on conservation in the long run?

Indeed. Citizens support and active participation is very crucial to achieve conservation and this can be brought about by conservation education.

Conservation education often tends to have a multiplier effect. An individual who is oriented towards conservation can have a strong influence on his/her immediate circle of influence, especially given the current nature of most communication – social media. This becomes very necessary in involving more and more people in conservation and allied activities including conservation education itself. It often leads to the formation of a community of likeminded people who exchange information and learn from others’ experiences, all leading to some form of meaningful action. Ongoing conservation activities can also benefit from conservation education as it could potentially bring in visibility and garner support to the effort.

Q6) As someone who has been in this field for long, have you sensed a shift or change in attitude towards conservation education in today’s world?

One can see changes on many fronts today. Communication for one has undergone sea change over the last decade or so – snail mails to emails and other means of mass communication. Access to information too has undergone a radical change. – from libraries to the internet. Both these could bring in an awareness that is a precursor to action of any kind. It also possibly shortens the typically long gestation periods that conservation education takes to yield results. Perhaps people now have become more impatient than in the past. They are willing to give their time and support but expect quick results. All these and more have certainly had a bearing on conservation education. However, it is heartening to note that many of these also rally people and catalyze them into positive action.

Pic 3: Conservation education is an integral part of conservation itself

Q7) Can conservation education be taken up as a career option? What would be your advice to the concerned people if they would like to consider this line of profession?

Things have changed so much over last few decades in this field, and there is more work to be done. And, there are options that people interested in conservation education can explore and consider. It has become imperative that various talents be used. This further widens the scope and enables people to consider this as a possible profession. Natural history, Photography, art (digital and otherwise), writing / editing skills, designing, publishing, web related skills, programming, and many more streams are now necessary and those with the suitable skillsets can lend their expertise in making conservation education more comprehensive and meaningful with a wider reach.  With the spread of wildlife tourism in the country in the last decade or two, there is a growing need for professionals who have an interest and expertise in conservation education to interact with guests.


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