The 3rd of March every year was declared World Wildlife Day by the United Nations General Assembly to mark the signing of the landmark Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1973. Aimed at celebrating and raising awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants, the day is a chance for us to think about the major threats to wildlife including habitat change, over-exploitation and illicit trafficking.
It is not for nothing that people say the future is in the hands of youth. The youth, all over the world, are responsible for being the change they want to see and therefore, it is not surprising then that the theme of World Wildlife Day this year is “Listen to the Young Voices”. What other voices have so much at stake, and so much to say, about how we will move forward from here?
Many young conservationists all over the world are responsible for protecting a variety of natural habitats and the amazing plethora of creatures that inhabit them. From reviving the numbers of magnificent beasts like the Asiatic cheetah, to turning the fate of the gentle Hawksbill sea turtle around, they will have to be the ones that harbour a great responsibility on their shoulders.
What is it that we, as a society, can do to equip youth with knowledge and ignite a passion for wildlife and conservation among them? Dr. Suhel Quader, who heads the Education and Public Engagement programme at the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), strongly believes that children need exposure to nature and wildlife if they are to care about it. SeasonWatch, an initiative led by Dr. Quader, involves hundreds of school children, who help in tracking seasonal changes in trees all over the country. “Each year around a thousand children take part in this project”, says Dr. Quader.
Hands-on volunteering opportunities like SeasonWatch are plenty today. One such is the cleaning up of the eastern coast beaches all the way from Gahirmatha in Odisha to Besant Nagar beach in Chennai, to welcome the Olive Ridley turtles to lay their eggs. The old and the young alike take part in this painstaking volunteer drive and children are usually the most enthusiastic. An exposure to wildlife – either as a visit to the local zoo, or a national park or just to the park next door can bring a vibe of care and concern towards the millions of birds and animals around us.
Children also need to be equipped with information regarding conservation efforts, if they are to be involved. Websites like Conservation India (www.conservationindia.org) and magazines like Current Conservation provide a wealth of information on the latest campaigns, and recent news on conservation efforts across the country. Several organizations have tailor-made programmes and initiatives aimed at children to help them appreciate the wildlife around them. The pocket guides and flash cards for children by NCF in its attempt to show how much fun bird watching can be, is an example.
Young voices have made drastic changes in the attitude of a community on several occasions. A prime case study is how the Irula tribe of South India, who once caught and sold snake skins for their livelihoods, is now playing a crucial role in helping to extract venom for the production of anti-venom. This change was the result of conservation efforts of over forty years, aimed at addressing the youth of the tribe. Another successful story comes from Nagaland where about 120,000 to 140,000 migratory Amur falcon were killed each year. A campaign that mobilized local youth to spread the need for such raptors for crop safety and a resounding request to provide a safe passage to the birds has now paid off – there has been no recorded killing of the falcons in the last four years.
Today, as children shape up their careers as they grow, a career in conservation biology and wildlife science can be all the more exciting. The National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bengaluru and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in Dehradun are two leading institutes in India that offer two-year master’s courses on this subject in alternate years.
And how can adults play a role in mapping the right direction? Tour the country, talk to children, show them why they must defend our wildlife now and introduce them to the breath-taking biodiversity around us. Working with a local conservation initiative or the forest department in spreading the message can set the right examples.
For the young voices of today, opportunities to get involved in protecting wildlife are growing by the day with the platforms to make their voices heard more accessible than ever. Are we listening?