Chennai’s environment enthusiasts form a new online network

A Bengal monitor photographed in Chennai   | Photo Credit: Mahathy Narayanaswamy

“You would think that most people in Chennai are aware of the Madras Bird Race, but not many people really know about it, or about the Madras Naturalists Society, especially in our age group,” says 17-year-old Mahathi Narayanaswamy, a student from Chennai. And yet, she adds, there are many in the age group of 13 to 25 who are interested in all things Nature, and are actively documenting species and gaining and spreading knowledge in their own ways.

But most of them are working out of their own prerogative, without the guidance, public platform or even confidence boost that established naturalists societies can provide. Mahathi’s solution for this disconnect is Young Naturalists Network.

Set up in June, this is an initiative that connects Nature enthusiasts to like-minded people, and to bigger initiatives in the city. “Students who are a part of this know how to reach out to their friends better than others (seasoned experts) who have never met these children earlier,” explains Mahathi, adding that only after founding the network did she realise that many of her friends shared these interests.

Founder Mahathi Narayanaswamy

Founder Mahathi Narayanaswamy   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

As of now, Young Naturalists Network is 30-member strong. “Vikas Madhav is the Chennai coordinator for butterfly-related events. He is also a reviewer for eBird (a leading birding portal) and Butterflies Of India. Vikas Madhav and Rohith Srinivasan amongst few others have recorded nearly 90 identified species in Adyar Poonga. Melvin Jaison has documented birds from Mittanamalli Wetland in 2016-2018 and has documented nearly 110 species. Many have volunteered for several outreach, awareness and education programs. Many have been part of several surveys, censuses and studies. Some have interned with several organisations like the Wildlife Conservation Society — India, Ashoka Trust For Research In Ecology And The Environment and Sálim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, for instance to study smooth-coated otters and leopards,” reels off Mahathi, who herself has documented over 160 species of moths at IIT-Madras, and is confident of doing at least 100 more.

So what do proactive minds like these do, when they get together? They expand their circle, and spread interest in intensive, patient, factual study of the world around them. So far, the society has been active with Instagram quizzes, sharing of their members’ observations about different species on Instagram, celebration of things like National Moth Week, and even a full-fledged e-magazine put together by members, most of whom are still in school or college.

Chennai’s environment enthusiasts form a new online network

Mission Career

The magazine is rich with creature profiles, backyard observations and even scientific papers (reproduced with permission), but a key segment is an interview of a field expert.

The maiden edition, released this week, featured chiropterologist Rohit Chakravarti, followed with a detailed profile of a leading institution that offers a course in the study of bats. Editor Vikas Madhav says this is a deliberate pairing, “We want to talk to someone who has made a career out of studying Nature, and also give our readers an idea of how they can pursue it.” Rohit’s interview, thus, has details not only of his work, but also of how he got started along this career path.

“Parents typically consider this to be a field which does not have too many opportunities, and are reluctant to let their children explore it. But when you see 30 people doing it and looking successful, parents might be a bit more open to it,” says Mahathi.

Mahathi’s original plans for the network included plenty of treks and explorations, but for now the young naturalists have to be content with reading and studying backyard creatures. Judging by the content they are putting out, this limitation is hardly a limitation at all.

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Printable version | Oct 30, 2020 1:42:37 PM |

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