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28 October, 2014

Wildlife Aware Nature Club: 'The Green Brigade'

This story was published in Deccan Herald's Spectrum supplement on 4 Dec 2007.

The Wildlife Aware Nature Club in Tumkur works for the cause of nature and wildlife conservation. Bharathi Prabhu outlines the activities of this environment-conscious group.

When people in and around Tumkur spot a snake, see any encroachment into forest area, find a wild animal being illegally transported, a lake becoming a landfill, or perceive any problem as an environmental one, they know whom to contact. It is a Wildlife Aware Nature Club (WANC) member that they think of first. For a small NGO in Tumkur with around 10-15 core members and no big time funding, the amount of work done by WANC is astounding.

Two things strike you about the group right away - commitment of its members and the diverse environmental issues they tackle. The core members have all been with the group for over 10 years now and they meet regularly to discuss their individual work and plan strategies.

Creating awareness, organising treks, preparing status reports on wildlife, participating in environmental projects, taking on powerful lobbies and increasingly using the internet - all in its efforts to conserve nature, this group has now won recognition even internationally.

WANC started off as an informal study group of four youngsters in 1990. All of them were deeply interested in nature and the presence of Devarayanadurga in their backyard acted as a catalyst for them to explore and learn.

“We were initially with the WWF and received guidance in activities like bird watching. We carried out a census of the birds and butterflies of the region for them but soon we were on our own,” explains Nandeesh, one of the founders. A businessman by profession, Nandeesh's love for nature, especially snakes, has turned him into an expert snake catcher or ‘rescuer’, as he points out!

Industrialist TVN Murthy, another founder and now a nominated honourary wildlife warden, works tirelessly in his capacity as an advisor. The group began by giving talks on ‘Nature Awareness’ in schools and conducting camps. This obviously had the desired effect! Three of the core members now were part of their audience then!

Elaborates Guruprasad of IBM, “I was in high school and took part in one of WANC's nature camps. I have been hooked ever since.”

Guruprasad's subsequent work on vultures of Tumkur district made him the youngest paper presenter in an international conference. Ameen Ahmed too was all of 15 when he came in contact with WANC. Now at 32, this manager of Greenpeace, India, has the honour of preparing the first ever checklist of birds of Karnataka along with Dr U V Singh, IFS. Another camper, Prasanna, went on to pursue a masters in ecological sciences and is the co-editor of ‘Parisara Arthakosha,’ the first ever environment dictionary in Kannada.

WANC's work at the grassroot level is equally noteworthy. Bank employee Upadhyaya, like other WANCers, believes in 'catching them young'. He has lost count of the number of schools they have talked in! Campaigning against the indiscriminate use of plastic and wastage of water, and instilling love and respect for all forms of life are his forte.

Soubhagya, a teacher, is a ready reckoner of sorts on medicinal plants. With Guruprasad's help she has prepared slides which she uses to educate the public. Gundappa, the unassuming science teacher, is the bio-diversity expert of his village Nagavalli.

Thanks to this man's efforts in co-ordination with the Center for Ecological Sciences, students and the community of Nagavalli participated in the Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan for their area.

Together they studied the crops grown, water problems faced, etc. and culled out indigenous solutions. It was largely due to Gundappa's efforts that a Slender Loris Sanctuary, India's first, has come up in Nagavalli.

WANCers also fondly recall the impact their discovery of the State's second largest colony of painted storks in Kaggaladu had on the villagers. The villagers are more knowledgeable about their birds now. It was also due to the wildlife (specifically blackbuck) data that the group furnished, that Maidenahalli was declared Tumkur district's first Conservation Reserve.

The group usually approaches the department/ organisation concerned to sort out any environmental issue, but in the absence of results, they have taken recourse to law.

For instance, WANCer Mallikarjun was on one of his regular treks in Devarayanadurga when he spotted illegal road construction. Alert members of the press also took up the case and now Lokayuktha and Supreme Court have been approached by WANC. The club has also sought information under the RTI act regarding various activities in various reserve forests of the district.

The jewel in the crown, according to all members, is however WANC's victory against Tumkur University which wanted to set up its campus in the reserve forest of Devarayanadurga. The case which was eventually won in the Supreme Court had attracted quite a bit of attention.

What pleases WANCers is that their fight helped preserve their beloved forests. The members now want to save Tumkur city from the ills of unplanned urbanisation.

Reviving Amani lake of Tumkur, preserving the wilderness around and continuing with their conservation efforts, therefore, top their agenda. It does seem like Mother Nature can breathe easy with WANCers around.

Conservation of Devarayanadurga forest over the centuries
Devarayanadurga’s big game in legends and shikar tales
Bangalore’s missing grasslands
Tigers in Bangalore in the Colonial era
My Devarayanadurga
Wilderness Areas of Tumkur


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