Conservation Education in Meghalaya and Mizoram: Beyond names and comparisions

Nimesh Ved

Workshop featured here was undertaken during Nimesh’s association with Samrakshan Trust in Meghalaya and Mizoram. Nimesh currently works independently and enjoys taking up actions that help him comprehend complexities that conservation offers. He loves long walks and is interested in conservation education and history.

During my association with Samrakshan (NGO working on Conservation) I was engaged with an interesting program on Conservation Education. As a part of the program I got to communicate on nature with students and their teachers as also other segments of the society – youth associations, forest department personnel and religious bodies. 

In course of the journey, one that enriched me beyond my own expectations, on issues concerning nature and communications, I realized that we would need to not teach but create platforms to discuss and deliberate on conservation. This was all the more pertinent in landscapes like Baghmara (Meghalaya) and Saiha (Mizoram) where Samrakshan then had field bases. Here, there were forests around towns and villages but on account of changing lifestyles, within space of a single generation, the connect with and concern for wildlife had eroded beyond imagination. This to an extent that while an old person in the village told me the behaivour of Hoolock  Gibbon (Hoolock hoolock) a school going girl asked (on seeing its image) if it was the King kong?
The journey also pointed out the need for a program spaced over a period of time and questioned the utility of bombarding students with excess information. The idea was to encourage questions and curiosity and not burden them with names. Setting example was far more crucial than asking single answer questions. I have often wondered at the benefit of asking the differences between Asian Elephant and African Elephant and then pointing them out.

As a corollary I worked on activities that would enable what I thought was good Conservation Education and over a period of time with a view to share the learning, get feedback and in turn learn from participants we had organized a workshop where members of non-government organizations and teachers participated besides Samrakshan team members.

This workshop was held at the Circuit House at Baghmara, a lovely location overlooking the
Simsang river as it proudly flowed into the fertile Bangladeshi plains. Over the course of 3 days we discussed Conservation Education, actions taken up by Baghmara office on Conservation Education and also looked at actions that could be taken up. Some of which I share below. These I have tried and have found them to be invigorating for the participants and of course me!

Film Screenings
We began with Sekhar Dattatri’s ‘Point Calimere – Little Kingdom by the coast’. In course of the screening we built in halts at strategic points and put to appropriate use the field guides. Species like Jackal (Canis aureus) and Black Buck (Antilope cervicapra) were discussed (their local names and presence in Saiha and Baghmara landscapes) while the carnivorous plant was compared to Pitcher plant (Nepenthes khasiana; endemic to Meghalaya and carnivorous). We discussed analogies used in the film like “match-box size” for the beach crab (and their impact) as also terms like RAMSAR, Important Bird Areas and Wildlife Sanctuary mentioned in the film for describing the location. 

When then had an open session to discuss the screening and all of us were vocal here. Participants mentioned it as being interesting to learn of different approaches to same activity (film screening) and that of the activity being done with higher level of intensity; both they felt to be useful. Participants were asked to ponder on whether
  • Augmenting awareness on the fashion in which a film can be screened would be of help?
  • Issues depicted in the film like road-kill and salt-production could be taken as a point to deliberate on issues in the landscapes?
We also screened the BVIEER film that depicted their efforts under the ICEF project at 3 sites in northern part of our country. Post the screening we got into 3 groups each of which was to talk on separate aspects of the film.
  • Content of the film.
  • Species seen in the film.
  • Learning from the film in context of Samrakshan’s efforts.
Participants saw the manner in which organizations other than Samrakshan too undertook Conservation Education programmes in separate parts of our country and the open session had them in discussions on involving more segments of society as partners in such program. 

Participants suggested generating synergies with partners (specifically other non-government organizations) for organizing Conservation Education programs at which they were asked if it would help to have them involved from the planning stage itself? 

Imitating Wildlife
Forming a circle we stood outside the Circuit House and each of us imitated sound of a wild species that s/he was familiar to. This rest of participants had to identify. Initially the participants were slow but as one by one we started making sounds we all had more than few laughs and loud ones at that. The collated list was invigorating! 14 species that included Hill Myna (Gragula religiosa), Flying Squirrel (Petaurista petaurista), Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) and Hoolock Gibbon (Hoolock hoolock). 

We discussed how lucky we were to be in such a location and that we had to discontinue cutting trees and hunting wildlife to be able to hear these around us and ensure that our children heard them as well in the years to come.

Debates and discussions
Debate was organised on whether Posters are useful tool for Conservation Education. Initially the participants took 3 separate stands; yes – no – don’t know; clarified their understanding of the topic and reason behind adopting the stand.  They then attempted convincing those in other groups to agree to their points of view and move over to their group! It was interesting to see participants, otherwise silent, animatedly put across their point of views! They talked of
  • Posters being ineffective in isolation.
  • Posters being effective when focus was on a specific issue.
  • Posters requiring lot of planning.
  • It being difficult to understand if posters made a difference.
Debate had participants alter their stands and argue aggressively. It also brought dissimilar points of view to fore. Participants are aware of the issue and the idea is to make them think and explore possibilities!!

This had a time limit to it and we discussed the process at the end as also issues that we could deliberate on with partners.

Since interest and energy levels were high we began another round of debate. This time on Mining in Garo Hills.

When we discussed it was invigorating to see how a debate had been generated between those contending that large topics were suitable for debates and those contending otherwise.  One participant was of the view that debates would have to be on larger topics for partners would find them simpler to converse on while the other mentioned that since we talked of sensitive issues we should have topics that bring out the larger or core issues from their end i.e. partners themselves. To enrich the session and clarify this point we put together 3 possible points for debate on a single issue. 
  • Should we have wild species as pets? 
  • Do wild species kept as pets survive for long? 
  • Do wild species kept as pets get adequate nutrition?
Most of us agreed however that debate would hinge on comprehending level of our partners and interest level of the facilitator and that it need not necessarily be in isolation, it could (for example) even be organized on a topic arising from a film. 

Discussion was on whether We should organize events like environment day and wildlife week. Participants expressed their views in the language they were familiar with, made comments on views of co-participants, sequencing was absent so was a stipulation on contributing more than once.  One of the participants made and shared a synopsis at the end. It went thus
  • Events help us work with partners other than those with whom we work on a regular basis.
  • Events have little impact.
  • Events are essential in order to involve people other than those at Samrakshan.
  • Events are more of a celebration and not a regular programme, meaning they should be looked as such.
  • During events participants listen but do not understand.
  • Events are not good for common people
This session underscored crucial issues pertinent to planning and implementation of these efforts at Baghmara and the approach towards partners. 

It was also agreed to by most participants that discussions need to be designed thoroughly and can help us get a sense on a particular issue.

We saw a presentation on birds, having bird pictures accompanied by their calls. The slides advanced and so did interest levels of participants. When the slides started repeating we shut the volume off and heard the participants! They shared of local names of birds, where in and around Baghmara they occurred and whether they were kept as pets! 
We discussed how different birds stayed in different kinds of habitats (in forests, around human beings, near water bodies) and how some of them were seen more as individuals and others in larger groups (like some of us!) and that some of them were not resident but migratory i.e. they did not stay with us across the year but came during specific periods. 

During this participants were handed over field-guides and asked to look for species they saw on screen. The wildlife team-members of Samrakshan then also showed them how best to use the field-guides.

Participants shared of having enjoyed the lively and participatory presentation.

The debate had majority of us believing in posters and we got on to working in groups on posters. Idea was to make posters in groups and then share experiences. 

Two groups each worked on land use planning and wild species in captivity, two issues on which work in Meghalaya field base focussed on, and came up with compelling posters. After these were presented we considered issues we had to bear in mind for posters
  • For whom?
  • From what distance will they be seen?
  • What language will they be in?
  • What will be the size?
  • What material will be used to make them?
  • Where will these be put up?
  • Will we use pictures or maps or diagrams?
  • How will we decide the content?
  • Who will be our collaborators?
The workshop ended on an invigorating note and one feedback that stays with me is that the participants were happy with the time given to their queries and comments throughout the workshop. 

For more information write to
Nimesh Ved, House Number 11 – 3- 296 / 15 / A, 2nd Floor,
Srinivas Nagar, Padma Rao Nagar,
Old Post Office Building,
Secunderabad – 500061, Andhra Pradesh
Ph: 89782-79595

All photograph courtesy: Nimesh Ved