The 2021 eco-fighters of South India who persevered through the pandemic

Through the lockdowns and Coronavirus-imposed restrictions in 2021, a few organisations and individuals continued their efforts to conserve the environment. Refusing to get bogged down by the pandemic’s uncertainties, they went about creating awareness, mobilising public support, conducting research and carrying out projects hands-on. In their own unique ways, they proved that local communities played a vital role in environmental protection.

Here are a few that have created a difference to the biodiversity of South India.

The Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society

At a time when biodiversity conservation remained limited to individual projects that seldom last long, an organisation in Andhra Pradesh has been leading a community-based wildlife conservation project in the Eastern Ghats over the past couple of years. From working towards conservation of the threatened species of the king cobra, rescuing other rare snake species to protect the world’s most trafficked animal, the pangolin, and raising awareness on the little-known fishing cat species, Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society (EGWS) has led a series of projects in the State.

The non-profit organisation promotes community-based wildlife conservation through education, conservation-oriented research, public participation, institutional capacity building and sustainable development. 2021 has been significant for the organisation’s projects. This year EGWS rescued 400 snakes of 12 different species from across the North-Eastern Ghats by snake rescues in the rural areas. This apart, EGWS also rescued and released 20 king cobras from the human-dominated landscape of Visakhapatnam and Srikakulam.

“We reached out to more than 30 villages in the mandals of Madugula, Cheedikada and Devarapalli in Visakhapatnam district to sensitise communities on snakebite management and king cobra conservation. In fact, this year 12 king cobras were left without killing by local communities in North Andhra as a result of our outreach programmes,” says Murthy Kantimahanti, founder of EGWS. They also discovered new distributional records of rare species like the mock viper and yellow green cat snake from Visakhapatnam. “We will set up the first Eastern Ghats conservation field station in the Eastern Ghats of Northern Andhra Pradesh,” says Murthy.

The highly elusive fishing cats have a patchy distribution along the Eastern Ghats. The species is threatened by habitat loss (wetland degradation), sand mining along river banks and conflict with humans in certain areas resulting in targeted hunting and retaliatory killings. This year, the society organised a unique awareness programme called ‘Swim Like A Fishing Cat’ to promote fishing cat conservation in the Eastern Ghats. The event encouraged participants to swim in an open lake near Chodavaram forest area in Visakhapatnam district and learn about the ecology and conservation.

Mangrove campaigner Murukesan T P

Rows of plants with glossy leaves occupy the front yard of Murukesan T P’s house in Malippuram in Vypeen, Kochi. These are mangrove plants, which have been nurtured by Murukesan. The mangrove nursery he has created in his eight-cent property can hold 15,000 to 20,000 plants at a time. The saplings are used for the various mangrove plantation drives in and around the coastal belt of Kochi.

In a small, yet significant way Murukesan has been campaigning for mangrove conservation in Kochi. Since 2014, he has been working with the Kerala Forest Department, and has planted over 40,000 mangrove plants in Vypeen, Chellanam, Vallarpadam, Cherai, Mulavukad and Kadamakkudy. These small islands that form part of Kochi are home to 13 species of mangroves and they have been recording a steady decline in number. In Kerala, Kochi has the second largest mangrove cover (3.96 sqkm); Kannur has the largest area under mangrove cover (7.55 sqkm). Over a span of seven years, Murukesan, has been able to create awareness and mobilise support from local communities to start planting mangroves.

He will be going on a seed collection drive by February-March. “That is the best season to collect seeds. The Forest Department is planning to rope in rural women’s collectives for the plantation drive next year.”

Murukesan has been helping the Forest Department carry out mangrove surveys. “Only by making the public aware of the importance of mangroves can we get the message across,” he says. He has also been growing and planting casuarina trees since 2018, which also serve in protecting shorelines. He has planted over 20,000 saplings in the Elamkunnapuzha panchayat in Vypeen.

“Mangroves are extremely important to our inter-tidal coastal regions. They act as a natural barrier against cyclones and tsunamis. People living along Kerala’s coasts have been dealing with rising sea tides and mangrove trees can help prevent damage to a large extent,” says Murukesan. “We are yet to fully appreciate the value of mangroves, which prevent coastal erosion and seawater intrusion and also provide a habitat for marine and avian life,” adds Murukesan, who was a fisherman before he turned to mangrove conservation.

Nature Society of Tiruppur

Recently, students of Subbiah Central School in Tiruppur, near Coimbatore made news. They saved a 25-year-old jamun tree from the axe, and translocated the tree inside the campus. “It was heartening to see children taking the lead in conservation,” says Ravindran Kamatchi, founding member. The society has so far completed over 280 plus education programmes on appreciating Nature and has reached out to as many as 80,000 children across Tiruppur, Erode, Coimbatore, Pollachi, and Tuticorin. “Initiating children into Nature, and motivating them towards conservation with a scientific temper is our objective,” adds Ravindran.

While students at Frontline Academy have inaugurated a butterfly park at the campus, over 70 students are part of a thriving young birders’ wing. As active members of Nature and eco clubs, the students commemorate events like International Tigers Day and are regulars at green drives across the city. “Take a stroll around the campus and you will find water bowls for birds at various points. Educating children is a priority and the results are beginning to show.”Next, self learning. They go on treks over weekends to foothills of the Nilgiris (Mettupalayam, Kallar, Nellithurai, Kunjapanai, Longwood Shola, Aravenu, Mulli,), Topslip, hillocks around Tiruppur like Elathur, Othimalai, Arjuna Hills, Oothiyur hills, and watch birds and butterflies at waterbodies around Tiruppur such as Nanjarayan tank, Orathupalayam Dam, Kathanganni lake, and Vellode Bird Sanctuary.

The 18-member team is a regular at Forest Department surveys and census studies, and also rescues injured birds, mostly owls, koels, and peacocks before handing them over to animal rescue centre. The members also make an effort to stop illegal trading of parakeets, munias, fresh water turtles, and francolins.

He recalls a memorable birding at Point Calimere. “Every year, we travel eight hours from here looking for flamingoes. The first time, we didn’t see a single bird. The second year, we saw a pair. And the third time around, we saw a flock of over 30,000, some flying and wading. While taking off, the birds resembled a flame. It was an unforgettable sight.”

They have a long standing request to the Government to declare Nanjarayan tank in Tiruppur, a bio-diversity hotspot as a protected wetland or bird sanctuary. “Spread across 440 acres, of which 280 acres is the catchment area, We have recorded 194 species of birds here including thousands of migratory birds like the bar-headed goose, northern shovellers, garganeys, northern pintails, common teals, sandpipers, godwits, little stints, wagtails, swallows and more.”

Ravindran says his mentor Mohammed Ali, founder of Natural History Trust, has been a guiding force. “We formed a separate wing to focus on schools. We want to do our best to leave the planet safe for the next generation.”

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Printable version | May 5, 2022 7:47:14 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/organisations-and-individuals-who-made-a-difference-to-the-environment-in-2021/article38049139.ece