"As part of the Kids for Tigers programme I visited the Bandipur Tiger Reserve. This visit opened my eyes to the fact that nature needs our care and protection."

When I first heard that I was going to Bandipur Tiger Reserve as a part of Kids for Tigers programme, I was elated and kept daydreaming about my encounter with a tiger. I was so excited about my three-day trip. Once we arrived at our destination we were introduced to seven kids from Bangalore. We came with our respective teachers and our coordinator Mr. Arivazhagan Chelliah and met Mr Anish Andheria, a wildlife conservationist.

On our first trip into the forest we were very silent; our eyes travelling everywhere in anticipation. We couldn't see deep into the forest as huge lantana bushes obstructed our vision. We saw sambhar deer, many spotted deer, giant squirrel and many birds like racket- tailed drongo, white-bellied drongo, grey partridge, treepai, grey shrike, woodpecker, to name a few. We also saw pug marks of an adult tiger and later a baby tiger. This was evidence of the presence of a tiger in the vicinity.

Even if one doesn't actually see the animal there are indirect evidences such as pug marks, scat bones, rubbings on trees, etc., to show that the animal was there. Mr. Anish also told us various forest management techniques like counter fires and fire breaks. Counter fire is a technique to put off a forest fire and fire breaks are done so that fire does not spread. We were also educated about how the forest guards risk their lives every day to combat forest fires and poaching.

After our first trip, we were called for an interactive session. We surprised the teachers and ourselves by asking so many questions. It was then that we realised that we had learnt a lot just by observing and listening. The day was over and we were ready to take a nap. The coordinators informed us that we would be hearing unusual sounds in the night. We were confused at first, but soon realised what it meant. At night we heard alarm calls. Usually when a carnivore is on the move, alarm calls are made by animals cautioning the other animals to be alert.

On the next trip to the forest we were expecting to see some large animals. We were secretly praying a tiger would show up. Suddenly we heard an alarm call. We became silent. Some of us got lucky that day, we saw a majestic leopard on the tree and in a flash it disappeared into the forest. The sight was a treat for our eyes. Seeing animals even for just a second in the wild is much better than a close-up of an animal on Animal Planet.

On our last trip to the forest, we saw a bachelor herd of deer and salt licks. Salt licks is an essential part of every forest. Every herbivore needs a certain amount of salt in their system. These animals eat clay so that they can get the required salt. Sometimes artificial salt licks are also made. After the trips, we had discussions where we asked Mr. Anish questions, which he very patiently answered.

Towards the end of our trip all the students had to perform a skit about anything related to wildlife. We took the most clichéd and important topic which most of us have got tired of hearing - CONSERVATION. I know all of us have heard so much about conservation (especially students) but we do almost nothing about it.

You might think that just because we did not see a tiger, this trip was a waste. But a tiger is just a part of the bigger picture. All organisms are interconnected. Even the mightiest of tigers cannot survive without a small termite. (It is important to understand that Bandipur would be destroyed if there aren't termites). Environment and wildlife are interconnected. We can do small things that will not compromise our lifestyle now but would make a difference to our future.

This trip has been a wakeup call. It has made me more aware of my surroundings and the lesson that every organism counts and has a role to play. We (especially youngsters) think that we cannot do anything to make a difference in the environment, but by just protecting one tree, you are a hero to India. I have started to do small things like closing the tap when not in use, switching off the lights when not needed. I am planning to adopt some trees and shrubs. Through this trip I have become more confident to stand up against animal cruelty. I have started using one-side sheets and have started giving away unused notebooks to people who need them. Most of all I have encouraged my friends to visit places like this as I have realised one thing from this trip - To stand up and fight for nature, you need to fall in love with it. The earth is our home. It should be our privilege to keep it safe.

I have been selected as the National Ambassador of Save Our Tigers. I am elated to visit the Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh. It is not yet another trip, as it has instilled in me the moral responsibility to contribute a significant part from my side towards this noble cause of conservation.

K. SAJANA, X C, PSBB, Nungambakkam