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A conversation about conservation- Dr. Parvish Pandya

Dr. Parvish Pandya is currently the Vice Principal and an Associate Professor in Zoology at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s College, Andheri, Mumbai Since August 2013. A Ph.D. in Zoology and a senior academician, Dr. Pandya has been teaching at various levels for more than 38 years. He is a resource person in the field of nature, environmental systems, biodiversity and teacher training programmes. He has  tremendous passion and commitment towards nature and environmental conservation and has passed on his interest to students, teachers, corporate personnel, decision makers, defense services, industrialists and the lay public.Dr. Pandya is also the Consultant Director for Natural History & Science with Sanctuary Asia and Cub Magazine.

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

Conservation education has been a part of my lifestyle for the past 40 years. During my undergraduate days in college, I realised that I was interested in nature and thus, the outdoors became something of a regular activity for me. At that time, observing myriad life forms, gave me an idea  why should I be the only person enjoying the beauty of nature? That is when I took to seriously  understanding the various components of biodiversity like mammals, birds, insects, flowers, rocks and even stars. Due to this new found interest, my outdoor programs and ramblings in nature drastically increased. I never missed a single weekend or a single vacation looking at different aspects of nature with experts and stalwarts in the field of taxonomy and environmental education. I developed respect and awe for nature, which resulted in commitment towards conservation. The best way I could implement this, was to conduct education programs for people of various ages and different strata. Thus, I visited schools, colleges, army and navy establishments, decision makers, NGOs and several institutions to implement educational programs.

Pic 1: Teacher’s should be passionate about conservation education too. Photo credit: Ashish Thoke

Q2) What is conservation education according to you?

Simply put, it is to develop a love for nature and it’s components. When there is love it is always followed by respect and this results in commitment towards saving it. Conservation is  judicious use of natural resources and wildlife is a major resource. Along with wildlife comes the awakening of preserving our environment. It is not just the far flung environment in terms of forests and natural vistas, but it is also man’s immediate environment in towns, villages and cities where most people live, and therefore conservation education also results in looking at the degradation of  the environment caused by mankind and to discover the ameliorative measures one needs to take. You may not be able to change people but whatever little you can do by your own self and implementing  ideas into your own lifestyle,  will at least reduce the burden on nature and natural resources.

Q3) How important is conservation education?

Right from the time we wake up until we go to sleep, we need to understand how our actions are detrimental to the environment. So if you are a living being, you need to understand the use and abuse of resources. Conservation education needs to be inculcated not just in schools and colleges, but amongst every person – whether he is responsible owing to his role in society, or whether he is responsible in his own  life.

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.

Merely making conservation education a subject does not solve the problem. Teachers need to be passionate and conscientious about an individual’s role in society. Just undertaking a subject which can ensure marks will not mean much, but if what is being studied in textbooks and reference books is implemented in one’s day to day life, will make a big difference.

Every aspect of conservation education needs to be addressed, whether it is pollution, deforestation, desertification, degradation of marine ecosystem, emission of plastics or other persistent substances plaguing the sea to the mountain tops, to understand  how human activities are affecting every strata of nature. So starting with children, conservation education can be included in the form of games to action oriented programs, to changes in activities during festivals, culture, tradition keeping in sync with history when man had a simpler lifestyle and therefore was less harmful to the environment. That does not mean that one needs to go back to the caves and start living there, it means that even by living  in cities and towns, you have the power to  make a difference.

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?

Yes, of course. Conservation is theoretical; conservation education is practical. Scientists have realised that mere observation of ecology and ecosystem operations does not aid conservation. It is when the research conducted, is translated into people’s movement and action, that something can be achieved in conservation. As more and more people understand how every action of theirs may burden the environment, it will culminate into making people aware and conscious of their decisions.

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?

I don’t think so. In the last forty years, I see the same percentage of people, furthering their learning about nature, wildlife and the environment. As far as India is concerned,  the reason is quite clear. Everybody, including the present day youth, are looking for shortcuts at earning fast money and if they feel that by studying or taking up a career in conservation education the earning will be delayed,  they seem reluctant to take it up as a career. Several people give up because of the agony of seeing people doing what they want to and thereby result in more harm to the environment. So yes, the youth need to be sensitised, not just to take up as a career, but also to understand how our survival is dependent on the survival of nature. As I have re-iterated several times in the past, nature can exist without man, but man cannot exist without nature.

Pic 2: Youth need to be sensitised about conservation education. Photo credit: Ashish Thoke


Pic 3: With students of the MSc Biodiversity Wildlife Conservation and Management Programme, Bhavan’s college, Mumbai. Photo credit: Shailesh Gupta

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?

Yes, definitely. There are a number of my ex-students who have taken seriously to one or the other aspect of conservation education. Even if you are a researcher you need to understand that unless and until the research that you are conducting, cannot  be understood or appreciated by a layman it is useless. Research findings must help a layperson understand how it will affect the latter in his day to day life. If that application is missing, there is no use spending crores of rupees and lakhs of man hours in studying science without any application. In conservation education there are numerous opportunities that are available in several fields. You could be a teacher, you could be a college professor, you could be attached to an NGO involved in education, you could be educating the decision makers, you could be running courses and programs, you could device some diplomas and certificate programs, you could be an IAS officer or a person who is involved in implementing ideas about nature and natural resource conservation amongst decision makers. So whichever sphere of career you choose, your conscience should tell you  whether your actions are helping to cure nature of it’s diseases or whether you are going to cause more harm to an existing problem.

Whichever field of education you pursue, be it-  Arts, Science, Commerce etc. it is not always necessary that you need a scientific background to be a part of conservation education. The only problem is that in India, there are limited courses that are available to ‘non-science’ students but then all over the world there are several courses and programs which one can take up, and distance learning now-a-days has become a big thing. Whatever career you take up, if it can be modified or if you really want to take up conservation education, then you can think of ways and means to go deeper into your own career options and look at how you can bring about a change. I have several students who are affiliated with fields like Media Studies, Journalism, Film Making, Music direction etc. and where ever they are, they know how to make a difference.

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