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A conversation about conservation education – Dr. Pranav Trivedi

Dr. Pranav Trivedi has completed his MSc in (wildlife), PG Diploma in  (Forestry), PG Certificate in (Environmental Education) and also holds a PhD (wildlife). His major personal and professional interest has revolved around and evolved by being a part of nature and understanding the dynamics of human-nature relationship. Motivated by his rich and vivid experiences in nature during  childhood and youth, he has  explored this aspect from a pedagogical and experiential perspective, especially with children. As a result, he has devoted more than two decades of his professional career (1994 onwards) to environmental education. Dr. Trivedi is currently a Senior Scientist with the Nature Conservation Foundation. He is based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat

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

Formally, I started in 1993 when I took up a position as Education Officer with the Ahmedabad Divisional office of WWF-India. Informally, I was involved since 1986 with what was then called ‘Nature Education’. In those days, I served as a volunteer with a snake park called Sundarvan and with WWF-India conducting snake shows and assisting in bird-watching trips and nature camps.

What made me take it up? My childhood was spent in the suburban wilderness of a 60-acre institutional campus (ATIRA in Ahmedabad) that was teeming with life. It had over 100 species of birds, several species of snakes, small mammals such as Hedgehogs, Hares and Mongooses and woodland kind of vegetation. I was naturally drawn to it and started enjoying it thoroughly. The occasional wanderings gave way to regular roaming and exploration that included catching snakes, observing bird nests (and their contents!) and following the movements of Jackal pups at night…Slowly, I got involved in more organised bird-watching and volunteering with Sundarvan (a snake park) and WWF-India. Conducting snake shows for awareness and assisting in bird-watching trips/nature camps gave tremendous impetus to transform an amateur interest into a serious pursuit. Encouragement and guidance from stalwarts like Lavkumar Khachar (the pioneer of nature education in India) and visits to various natural spots of the state led me to making up my mind to study wildlife and get involved in its conservation. After finishing MSc (Wildlife Science) from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII); I returned home to join WWF-India to share the joy and wonder of nature that I experienced as a child and youth with others to motivate them to care for nature.

Pic 1: Interacting with students at a Ladakh camp site

Q2) What is conservation education according to you?

The term Conservation education is rather recent in India. Earlier, the prevalent term was Nature education followed by Environmental education and so on; many now call it Education for Sustainable Development. While terms such as environment, conservation, sustainable and development are all later human inventions with so many hues and colours of definitions and meanings; the term NATURE has greater clarity and invokes direct connection with us. So, I prefer to use the term Nature education. And I believe that Nature education is chiefly about valuing and preserving/nurturing life. Yes, life is a value in itself and Nature education helps us in feeling/experiencing, understanding and appreciating this. No life on earth was created to serve humans; rather each species has the same purpose – to ‘survive and propagate’. Each creature is unique and has a definite role to play in the functioning of life on earth and all creatures (including us humans) are connected with one another through this great web that untiringly carries out recycling of energy and matter. A significant outcome of Nature education is an awareness that translates into Non-injury or Ahimsa towards all (plant and animal) life, their dwellings and mechanisms sustaining life on earth. It is thus a process of expansion of human consciousness to grasp the oneness of all life on earth and act responsibly to preserve and nurture it. Through this, we literally go back to our roots through a change in our values, emotions, knowledge and attitudes; ultimately resulting in positive action. In other words, Nature education helps us re-cognize our true source and re-link with this infinite power-house!

Q3) How important is conservation education?

As important as Ourselves and as precious as our shared home – the Earth herself!! It is not just important, but imperative considering that we are completely dependent on the beautiful systems and mechanisms created by nature to live a healthy and meaningful life from our very basic needs to the highest spiritual pursuits. Besides, who do you think we are?! As an animal species, we are from and of nature – tooth and nail! If we do not educate ourselves about our roots and our connection with nature, how are we going to change anything that comes in the way of living a good life while keeping our source – NATURE thriving and pulsating!

Pic 2: Of questions and answers. In discussion with students in Gujarat

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?

Imperative it is, but not necessarily by reducing it to a subject – as all subjects are entities to earn marks and pass! Rather, Conservation education needs to permeate each and every sphere of human existence and activity. But, its beginning must be when people are young, very young actually, at the nursery school level. I would say even earlier when the mother conceives the child – if she can start from there – watching, listening to and being with nature. Both parents can play a vital role in educating the child about nature…and if the process initiates there, it may bear fruits much earlier.

Regarding the components of conservation education, all are important; however, those facilitating organic contact or immersion in the natural world should feature prominently in the curriculum. This is because research and studies all over the world have emphasized the vital role of such opportunities of being outdoors (organised or otherwise) in establishing a strong and meaningful relationship with nature. This is believed to be a precursor to positive environmental attitudes and action.

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?

Conservation is akin to an infinite bumpy ride with intermittent smooth and enchanting passages! But, it can be made far more exciting and rewarding if conservation education is considered as an essential, integral and continuous element of the entire conservation process. Everyone can benefit with some bit of education about nature at all stages of their lives, and especially so during the formative years when the hearts and minds are much more impressionable. Conservation projects generally target Protected Areas (and their surrounding landscape) or where there’re issues/problems concerning nature and its use by people. But, each one of us impacts nature in a negative way – however minor it may seem and contributes to degradation of nature and her dynamic processes that sustain life on earth. So, all sections of the society and all ages are amenable to conservation education. To me, having conservation education as an essential and long-term element of formal/informal and opportunistic education can contribute to greater awareness, foster positive values, emotions and understanding and lead to action/change. Having said that how we do it and sustain it are important questions that need proper consideration and sincere efforts.

Pic 3: Interaction with college students during a camp at Ladakh

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?

Frankly speaking – both YES and NO! Quantitatively of course there’s a big YES, but qualitatively, I’m afraid it is still a NO. Conservation education is still not as mainstreamed as it could have been though there’s a lot of talk about it on special occasions and events. The passion and commitment required to create activities and programmes that rekindle a positive and meaningful relationship between nature and people are sporadic. In fact, some of the strong outdoor nature education components of institutions such as WWF-India have dwindled substantially in the last two decades. On the other hand, there is a visible spurt of conservation education activities within and around the Protected Areas and in smaller clusters involving local communities. I do hope that these are sustained and bear fruits by building a harmonious relationship between humans and nature. If this happens, there is no doubt that nature conservation will benefit.

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?

Of course, Yes! Slowly but surely there is now increasing scope for young people to contribute to conservation of nature through education. Employment opportunities are being created at Nature Centres/Parks, Zoos, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries, Museums, NGOs and academic institutions. One can also start one’s own consultancy firm/long-term programmes/activities or institution/NGO.

Having a basic degree in arts/science and then going for a master’s degree and/or PhD in Environmental Education, Wildlife Science/Conservation, Environmental Science, Mass Communication, Social Sciences, Anthropology, Environmental Psychology or Environmental Design at good institutions/universities of India or abroad can be considered. We still have very few places offering formal degrees, shorter courses (Diploma/Certificate) and workshops in Conservation/Environmental education in India.



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