Image credits : Aaranyak.
Context Conservation Education (CE) is an opportunity to create platforms to deliberate on wildlife conservation issues with different segments of the society (Ved, 2013). Conservation education needs to move beyond organising random events, to be effective and relevant, as well as provide a depth which the complexities of the day warrant. Such CE needs to be based on structured and robust planning. To make education worthwhile and effective, a strategy to address the existing threats/issues and relevant target groups is needed. Such a strategy needs to be focused, structured, thematic and participatory (Trivedi et al, 2006). Citing the example of the Tiger Conservation Project in Manas National Park, such a strategy along with concerns is discussed in this article.
Project and the Landscape
Tiger conservation project, initiated during 2015, presented an opportunity to join hands for CE in an ecologically critical landscape. The authors responded with alacrity which ensured that the significance of CE was at par with other project components; these included monitoring, protection and livelihood. CE involves exploration, deliberation and negotiation, and there is a dire need to bestow on it the time and efforts it merits (Ved, 2012). The project was implemented in Manas landscape which lies in Baksa, Chirang, Udalguri and Kokrajhar districts of Assam (26°37′- 26°50’N, 90°45′- 91°15’E), India (Goswami & Ganesh, 2014).
Aaranyak, an organization headquartered at Guwahati, implemented the project with its partners. Titled ‘Securing Source Population of Tiger, Prey and Habitats in Indo-Bhutan Manas Landscape’, the project aimed to achieve 50 per cent increase in tiger population in the project area in the next 10 years by reducing human disturbances in the habitat and thus increasing the tiger and prey population.
Seeds of the Workshop
The first step was to invest time and efforts to develop a robust and long-term plan for CE in the landscape, which not only looked beyond the project term but was also sensitive to the complexities the landscape offered and brought multiple stakeholders on board. The question then was whether the planning exercise should be undertaken by the team itself or by a larger group which included people experienced in CE. The team included, besides the authors, enthusiastic and young members associated with the CE component of the project.
After deliberations, it was decided to invite a set of people and experts well-versed with CE, and seek quality and critical inputs. This helped the plan to move beyond the limited knowledge of the team and also enhance the team’s awareness on multiple aspects of CE.
During initial discussions, a common understanding was developed:
- Focus on conserving tigers across the landscape
- Focus on developing materials that could be used during the project
- Explore overlaps with the livelihood component of the project
- Assimilate learning from emerging disciplines like experiential education and transformational education
The plan looked beyond tigers and was open to learn from other emerging and developed disciplines and pedagogies. Materials were discussed to the extent that the plan warranted. Emphasis was laid on using existing CE resources rather than starting de-novo.
- Activity based programmes, including free-flowing and animated conversations, and activities by participants, were adopted. Conventional power-point presentations were not preferred.
- The format was made flexible avoiding a rigid structure, to allow space for creativity to delve deeper into CE.
- Short duration (5-6 days) workshops, including nature trips, preferably away from internet connectivity, to let participants settle, absorb and contribute effectively were conducted.
- A lengthy debate ensued on the degree to which the workshop should be planned and structured beforehand. It was agreed to keep the workshop as loosely structured as possible to allow the participants and experts to contribute in shaping the event and enriching it further.
The workshop was designed in a way that the participants are exposed to the natural surroundings, including wildlife and the community. Plenary sessions by experts with a focus on team needs; panel discussions with participants well-versed in the issues on CE in the landscape; discussions on challenges; process documentation, monitoring and evaluation; capacity building and space creation for participants; were some of the major activities of the workshop.
Resources and Preparations
Experts were selected based on projects undertaken during recent years, overlap of skill-sets with those sought by the team, familiarity with the landscape, and positive outlook. Resources included CE activities undertaken at Aaranyak and learnings from it; CE in Assam by other organizations and individuals, with a focus on the landscape; CE as a part of the school curriculum in Assam; details of the project and landscape.
The workshop, organized during June 2016 at Bansbari, turned out to be six days of fun filled learning. The venue, bereft of walls on three sides, set the desired tone: of being at ease and lack of formality. The first half of the workshop included trips inside the Manas National Park, with sightings of the rhinos and Bengal floricans being the highlights; interactions organized with individuals and groups at multiple locations in the landscape; and a panel discussion with representatives of the state education department and people renowned for their knowledge of local cultural values of the landscape.
This laid the platform to launch the second half. The deliberations were focused and upheld a high quality, stressed on group activities and ensured a high degree of participation. Plenary sessions by experts focused on issues like interpretation centres, experiential education, material development, communication in the context of CE and CE with school children. Detailed discussions made it possible to explore topics like key threats to the habitat and activities that could be undertaken to mitigate them. The planning component ventured beyond school going children and explored CE with crucial but difficult to engage with stakeholders like grazers and self-help groups.
The workshop was a small but ambitious first step that has put in place a robust base to move ahead on CE, in the landscape and beyond. The team now needs to take up actions on the path laid out by the workshop. These include:
- putting in place detailed activities for each of the stake-holders,
- deliberating on the critical feedback received from the participants,
- drafting a document that would highlight the process,
- forging linkages and collaborations based on opportunities identified, and
- facilitating creation of platforms and utilizing existing platforms to enable the team to explore CE meaningfully.
The authors are indebted to the workshop participants for investing their time and contributing to make the workshop meaningful and fun; especially the experts Lima Rosalind, Prashant Mahajan, Tanver Hossain, Pramod P and Rengaswamy Marimuthu. The authors are grateful to the project partners Panthera, Awely, Wildlife Conservation Trust, Forest Department of the Bodoland Territorial Council and the Integrated Tiger and Habitat Conservation Program, IUCN for supporting the project. They also wish to warmly acknowledge the support and co-operation of the entire team at Aaranyak for making the workshop possible. We also thank Swati Chaliha for her critical comments on the draft.
For further details, please contact: Nimesh Ved, [email protected]