The week-long Wildlife Week celebration at the British Council has turned the spotlight back on the diminishing biodiversity in the city.

With 2010 being the International Year of Biodiversity, our focus inclines towards the “biological diversity” of Chennai. For the last 10,000 years, man has been the greatest factor affecting biodiversity, with adverse impact at an accelerating pace since the Industrial Revolution. Human intervention in ecosystem function has been expressed through habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation, overexploitation, and pollution.

Nuances of the wild

The Madras Naturalist's Society (MNS), World Wildlife Fund India, Tamil Nadu State and British Council jointly present The Wildlife Week celebration at the British Council from September 30 to October 7. Wildlife Week celebrations and photographic exhibition was inaugurated by Paul Sellers, Director, British Council, South India. With the theme as biodiversity, the week-long celebrations included a range of programmes such as photography exhibition, a wildlife filmmaking workshop by renowned wildlife filmmaker Shekhar Dattatri, film screenings and poster presentations.

The week celebrated the biodiversity and expressed the importance of preserving the flora and fauna we sometimes take for granted. The celebrations kick started with Shekar Dattatri's filmmaking workshop on wilderness movies. His fascination with wildlife began at the age of 13 when he joined the famous Madras Snake Park as a student-volunteer. Soon he won the National Award for his first film “A Cooperative for Snake Catchers” in 1987. He spoke about his new film “Truth about Tigers”. The movie was also screened to the audience.

By 9:30 a.m., the orange-ish interiors of British Council was teeming with nature enthusiasts and film school students. Almost 60 aspiring filmmakers sat captivated by Dattatri's wilderness movies. A number of scenes from his footages were screened to the students. He explained shot composing for all his footages and explained the concept of “Recreating Reality” where they recreate intricate sounds that occur in wildlife which cannot be captured by the camera. “Recreating Reality is an art and a science. A scene seems lifeless from the screen without sound,” says Dattatri. He also explained the fundamental mistake that most wildlife film makers make stating that “Waiting for the ‘golden hours' is a no-no”. Golden hours are the time span from 5:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. in the morning and 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. in the evening.

At the end of a productive and interesting three-hour session, a couple of hands went up at the announcement of “Any questions?” Aspiring filmmakers and wildlife enthusiasts asked questions to which Dattatri patiently answered.

The turnout for this wilderness week surprised me, because the youth around us seem to be involved with their iPods and iPhones. Our focus on wildlife and biodiversity seem to limit to only a seminar or a competition. The minute they walk out of the door, it's all forgotten. But here we had, conversations happening between students about how they can actually convey the message about diversity in Chennai.

“When you mention Wildlife to a commoner he/she relates only to big animals. We thought, why not celebrate Chennai?” says Rachel Pearlin, State Director of WWF-India (Tamil Nadu). She explains how it is important for youngsters to know about their biodiversity. “Wildlife is not in the wilderness. It is around you”. Rachel expresses her concern primarily about the biodiversity in Chennai. She explains how Chennai has a really rich biodiversity. “You think of tourism maps and traffic maps. Do we have a wildlife map? The moment you treasure something, you measure it. So for you to treasure it, you need to measure how much you have around you.”

Anu Thampi, Project Manager, British Council spoke to us about the alarming rate at which the environment around us was changing “We hardly see sparrows anymore! We have reached a stage where we have to slow down. We have to remember that this is a system and we need to maintain connections”.

Reinforcing the message

A debate on this topic helped bring out a lot of views. Colleges from Chennai participated in this event with the topic being “Is social disparity a barrier to conservation efforts?” A storytelling session was also held on the topic “Encounters in the Wild”. Anu goes on to explain how they made it a point to also involve children in this wilderness week by conducting a poster presentation on October 01. The topic was “Celebrating Biodiversity”. A Wildlife quiz was conducted on the same day too with the same theme. A string of wildlife films was screened during the course of the week. These films are short films made by Indian filmmakers on a scholarship called the UK Environment Film Fellowships (UKEEF). Some of the films that were screened were “The Last Dance” by Ashima Narain, “The Hunted” by Jay Mazoomdaar, “Turtles in a Soup” by Kalpana Subramanian and “Once there was a Purple Butterfly” by Sonya V. Kapoor.

A photography exhibition was also held in the British Council library premises. The entries have come in from The Madras Naturalists Society and Pelican Photography Club. Chennai favourites like Sripad Sridhar and “Poochi” Venkat have also contributed to this collection of photographs which have brilliantly captured creepy crawlies to giant elephants!

With the alarming increase in global warming and pollution, our biodiversity seem to dying out. These responsible youngsters and organisations have taken a step to bring out awareness about Chennai and its wildlife. We should preserve every scrap of biodiversity as priceless while we learn to use it and come to understand what it means to humanity. Each one of the Earth's 5 million invertebrate species plays a role in its ecosystem. And this ecosystem has to be maintained. This maintenance is our responsibility and the resultant is our future. The MNS, WWF-India and the British Council have collaborated, bringing the whole community together for a united cause.

The ecosystem is like a great machine. Try taking out the bolts of this great machine. The machine might work even after you pull out ten bolts, but what happens when you pull out a hundred? Food for thought.

Rehna is a M.Sc Visual Communication student at Loyola College

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