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A conversation about conservation- Anand Pendharkar

Anand Pendharkar is a wildlife biologist by qualification and has had a wandering career from being an Environmental Science School Teacher at the famous Doon School (Dehradun), to the Chief Editor of websites, to being a Freelance Columnist with leading newspapers and travel magazines. He has published over 650 popular and scientific articles till date. Till recently he contributed a weekly column ‘Go Wild’ for the Sunday Mid-day. He teaches as a Visiting Faculty at several colleges and schools around India at undergraduate and post-graduate levels. He has designed India’s first Environment Management Course for MBAs (teaching at the Aravali Institute of Management, Jodhpur) way back in 2000. He is a Certified International Zoo Educator and is a Professional Teacher Trainer. He established SPROUTS (an eco-tourism & outdoors company) in 1995 to give Nature a helping hand. They undertake many projects in schools, colleges, housing colonies & villages too, to establish butterfly gardens, Terrace Farms, document biodiversity and conducts camps & treks to the entire of South Asia! He is also the Founder Director of an NGO, the SPROUTS Environment Trust (Est. 2002).

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

Conservation education is a never-ending, cyclic and highly interlinked process, which begins with ones first breathe and may continue till ones last (and if successful, after you perish too). For a conservation educationist, every action, project and interaction is a learning,sharing and teaching process. Depending on the geography, the socio-economics and the time under consideration, the lessons vary.

My professional career in conservation education began immediately after completing my Masters in Wildlife Science in 1993, when I joined the Doon School and dived deep into re-designing the school’s EVS curriculum to sync with the upcoming ICSE curriculum. However, I started leading Nature Trails, Treks and delivering lectures right since 1986. A 10-day Nature-Adventure Camp in the wild outskirts of Pune, led by a retired Army Officer (Maj. Paranjpye aka Babaja) and his wife (Mrs. Paranjpye or Jia) changed my life, when I got my first lessons on bird watching from an awe-inspiring nature educator and interpreter, Kiran Purandare. Kiran, now a renowned author, mimic of over 100 species of birds and a multi-talented person, was then the Education Officer with WWF-India (Pune). He drove home the fact that to be a good educator, you have to be passionate, driven, multi-lingual and a superlative verbal and non-verbal communicator. Thus, since May 11, 1986, every minute of the last 32 years have been hectic and directly or indirectly linked with conservation research and education, right from the snow-clad Himalaya to the reefs of Andaman Islands to the deserts of Rajasthan to the evergreen forests of Arunachal Pradesh.

It wasn’t just Kiran, but all through my undergraduate, post-graduate and professional life, I had the opportunity to be exposed to some of the best outdoor and indoor learning modules, facilitated by some of the most passionate nature educators and researchers from India and across the world. These ‘Green Gurus’ not only impacted my choice of academics, but also strengthened my belief of need for engaging educators. I strongly believe that our current environment problems can only be solved through proper ecological or nature education and outreach to every child, youth, adult and senior citizens, irrespective of their profession or economic status.

Pic 1: Anand leads a family trail to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park

Q2) What is conservation education according to you?

I believe that Conservation Education (CE) should be positive in its outlook and thus unlike what is prescribed in today’s depressive curricula, conservation or environment education is not just about the threats that the environment faces. In fact, if it includes knowledge and amazement about the fantastic biodiversity, their adaptations, life-cycles, various phenomena and human communities, it would create love, compassion and responsibility towards our fellow Earth Inhabitants. Thus, Environment Education (EE) should be more about orientation of individuals and societies towards lifestyle change, co-habitation with other organisms than just mere thought installation!

Pic 2: Sharing his passion and amazement about the Biodiversity of the Western Ghats, with kids of rural Maharashtra

Q3) How important is conservation education?

Nature is so all-encompassing that if you study it in its entirety, you can learn and gain from it endlessly. You can learn about art, music, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, geology, social systems, sports, survival strategies and even warfare, via the medium of nature. However, one should realise that immersive and experiential learning should finally turn into conservation action. One must realise that once conservation becomes a way of life, it is easy to relate with people or creatures from any geographic zone, and thus take up precautions or actions to save them.

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

I think conservation and environment awareness should start as a home school or pre-school exercise, during their wordless years, as crucial life lessons of responsibility and being-educated. At a younger age, knowing the wonders of the nature is far more interesting and eventually effective for instilling ownership of nature and responsibility to conserve, rather than studying the out-of-reach threats and problems. This education should then be strengthened with skills, actions and success stories, at every stage of life, either through curricula, novels, story books, workshops, wilderness and rural camps, treks, adventure sports, extracurricular courses and activities.

Pic 3: Training Forest Guides of Satpuda Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh

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?

Concerned people keep doing their part in conservation through research, outreach, clean-ups or events, but if others continue with their polluting activities then their efforts are wasted and negated at a faster pace than that of conservation education. Therefore, it is imperative that conservation education should not only bring about a 3600 change in your lifestyle, but also empower you to take conscious positive action. The day nature education reaches absolute masses, and parents, education systems, corporate bodies and governments are held responsible for their impacts on our environment, will we see positive conservation action in the long run.

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?

If parents and elders are not convinced about environment then it is useless teaching kids, as they tend to emulate their elders. So I feel that if conservation education targets corporate behaviour and adults and change their polluting lifestyles and actions, a definite change can be achieved. It is heartening to see more corporate engagements with nature, conservation and environment, besides the number of adult volunteers and donors that crop up just when we seemed to have reached an impasse.

As educators, the most fun is of course to work with children and youth, from any socio-economic strata. However, whether voluntarily or out of lack of choice, adults have to realise that conservation will be the keystone of our future survival. So the sooner people imbibe this truth, the sooner will be teaming up to bring about effective changes in our conservation paradigms. And I believe, we have already started our trek up this Mount Everest.

Pic 4: Training Forest Staff of Purna WLS, Dangs, Gujarat

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?

Conservation education as a profession is a 24X7X366days job, which needs a lot of education, training, experience and skills. Sadly, in India, people expect free service from professionals and even academia doesn’t have positions which pay you a salary even equivalent to an auto-rickshaw driver. Working with a conservation NGO gives you lot of respect and public acknowledgment, however it may or may not result in a comfortable salary, as funding is always sketchy and ephemeral. The working hours maybe long and the travel and stay arrangements, sketchy in most cases. Health or other benefits such as a personal life are minimal and the risks aplenty. Free-lance professionals and entrepreneurs have their own set of problems, with self-doubt, competition and limited private investors. It is not uncommon for able conservation professionals to necessarily have a parallel source of earning or interested persons to consciously pursue other professions to earn a safety cushion and then migrate into higher management posts of Conservation NGOs.

If you are ready to brave all these hurdles and have a loving supportive family, friends, peers and followers, and a passion that goes beyond all these adversities, do dive head-on, you will be a happy person at the end of the day. Of course, mostly with a debt, minimal luxuries and a personal library of life experiences!

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