A question parents often ask me is - “Isn't it dangerous for children to venture into the forest?"
I was 13 when I first visited Periyar Tiger Reserve, popularly known as Thekkady in Kerala. Though I had visited forests before with my dad, I was more excited that summer evening, as it was my first night trekking experience. Being an inquisitive kid, I grabbed every opportunity to shoot as many pictures as possible with my new SLR camera.
The moment I stepped into the forest, I was enraptured by the buzz of Cicadas and the hoots of a Brown Fish Owl (pointed out by a field guide); a Great Hornbill ‘whooshed’ past me.
We began our trek and soon, a forest guard who came along, spotted a Sambar deer ‘kill’ near the banks of the lake. It was just 50 metres away from where we stood. The guard presumed it to be the work of a large predator. We eagerly waited behind a fallen tree, wondering what we would see. After a few hours, to our surprise, a tiger emerged to feed on the ‘kill’. I trembled at the very sight of the beast. I quickly pulled out the camera and exposed two rolls of film negatives. Much later, I discovered that all the pictures I took, turned out black. The tiger was nowhere to be seen in the images!
After a few minutes, the tiger moved into a bush. Most predators are shy of humans and move away when they sense human presence. Little did I know that sighting a tiger was a rarity! The only thing I knew back then was the tiger is our national animal. But my first sighting triggered my curiosity and love for the natural world.
Forests are not the only places where we can observe nature; we could watch sparrows, squirrels and other creatures right in our backyard. Also, reading works in simple prose by Jim Corbett, George Schaller and Konrad Lorenz evokes an interest in the natural world. Corbett is a well-known hunter turned conservationist, legendary naturalist Lorenzo and biologist-conservationist Schaller belong to the era where wildlife biology was based on spending months in the wild and observing animals, rather than inside labs and on computers. At 80, Schaller is one of the humblest people I have met.
Yet, nothing beats trekking responsibly and watching animals in the wild, albeit without disturbing them. I stress on ‘without disturbing’ for no animal in the wild would harm humans, unless provoked. Like us, they have a circle of fear. If we step too close, they naturally defend.
Till this day, my experiences in the wild continue to lead my passion. After all, what could be more fascinating than being in the forest, watching nature unfold in front of your camera!
(The author is an award-winning nature photographer and co-founder of Youth for Conservation. In this monthly column, he talks about his passion for nature, photography and conservation.)