Saturday, January 16, 2016

Study on citizen volunteers

"More than 100 ‘citizen scientists’ who had volunteered with the longest-running tiger research program in the world, led by WCS in India, were surveyed by the authors. Since 1990s, over 4000 such volunteers have been trained by WCS to survey wildlife populations and local communities across several Indian states including Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and others."

................The study revealed several important impacts of volunteering with WCS and CWS. Over 80% of the respondents acknowledged increased knowledge and concern for wildlife rooted in science. More than 60% said that they were able to use the knowledge learned during volunteering with WCS-India in other aspects of their lives. Several also indicated greater spiritual understanding about life in general................

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


-Nirmal Kulkarni

  1. Always let a family member/friend/colleague know the area and approx. location or range/beat of the forest as a rule. This is the first precautionary rule that every serious amateur / professional student of ecology or wildlife enthusiast should follow. It helps a lot in the long run in times of any eventuality.
  2. Always enter a Protected area with permits/ entrance tickets and after paying prescribed fees. In case of reserved forests and community forests one must inform the local forest officer or village community forest committee member before entry into a forest.
  3. Read up on the area/habitat/ current social and forest related issues in the area. It is also a good habit to cross check from those who have worked in the area before. A detailed map is always an asset too.
  4. First Aid Kit/ torch/water bottle/whistle/good walking shoes are essentials that one MUST have while heading out on a field trip. Do not attempt to borrow or share any of these at any time during a field trip. Get your own set of essentials and always be prepared.
  5. Be very clear on why you are visiting/ entering a forest area in the first place. Is it for leisure/investigation/survey/photography- a combination of any of these or anything different? It is essential you do just that and do not change focus. Remember, forest sojourns impact wildlife too. 

 Nirmal Kulkarni can be contacted at

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Getting lost in the woods...and surviving

Five tips if you get lost
No one plans to get lost, but it can happen; yes, it can even in these days of mobiles and Google maps.  We hear of people getting lost in forests without food or water but surviving for many days.  But how?  By eating lizards, squirrels, insects? We’re not saying that you need to practice your hunting skills, but the point is –  you must do what you have to do and survice. Most people would.

Whenever you enter the wilderness there are precautions you should take to make sure you’re prepared for anything.
These tips will get you started.

1) Plan for Your Situation

Every situation is different and should be treated as such. If you’re hiking in an area with unpredictable weather patterns, plan for warm and cool clothing. If you’re going hiking during the summer, pack plenty of water and wear light colored clothing. If you’re trekking into the wild by yourself, let a friend or family member know where you’re going, and when you plan on returning.

2) Know Where You Are

Study a map of the area or bring one with you. Being able to identify landmarks or waterways could save you in the event you get lost. Always carry a compass so you can triangulate your position.

3) Don’t Panic

The natural reaction is to panic when we are unsure of our surroundings. Panicking can waste crucial energy and affect your state of mind. Use the acronym STOP to regain your composure and get in the right mental state.

S = Sit Down
T = Think About The Situation
O = Observe Your Surroundings
P = Prepare for Survival by Gathering Materials

4) Call For Help

If you’re out hunting, firing your weapon can direct attention towards you and hopefully lead to your rescue. Unfortunately, most people aren’t carrying when they’re out hiking or camping.  A great alternative is a whistle, which studies have shown to be the least cost and most effective way of getting attention.

5) Be Prepared

Having a whistle is just one of many survival tools that can help you in a dire situation. A water filtration straw can help you drink safely from a river or stream, and a fire striker can easily assist you in getting a heat source going. But If you ask any survival enthusiast, they would probably tell you their knife is the most important. And for good reason. A survival knife can be used for:

First Aid Tool
Food Prep
Shelter Building
Fire Making
Hunting Weapon
Prying Tool
Make-Shift Screwdriver

Tips courtesy @ Blog

Friday, October 18, 2013

Meeting Melghat: A volunteer's account Part 2

One evening, as I attempted to photograph a shikra in an open patch of the forest, Ankosh, the guard I was accompanying, suddenly drove my attention to a drab grayish brown bird, perched high in a tree about 100 meters from where we stood. It was just another noisy jungle babbler, I thought. Why was he so exited about this particular babbler when the trees around us were full of them? “Alarm call”, he said. “There is a predator nearby.” Instantly forgetting the shikra, we silently inched forward in the direction of the tree. Crouch - stand - bend - crouch - was the pattern we followed till we stopped at the edge of the open patch. Directly ahead was thick vegetation, making it impossible for us to see what was troubling the bird. To avoid making any sound, we stayed in our crouched positions. The babbler had stopped calling by now, and after a few eerily quiet moments, Ankosh, having decided that the animal has slipped away, stood up. SNAP, the sound of a branch breaking startled us. We quickly scanned the trees ahead, but the leopard was gone.

Morning light bathes the path frequented by a leopard

The narrow winding road that bridges Melghat to the outside world 

A stroll on the road that connects the villages alongside the reserve revealed some of Melghat’s avian citizens. I heard a company of loud alexandrine parakeets long before I saw them fly overhead. A crested serpent eagle, looking stoic and majestic as only eagles can, perched long enough for me to photograph it, before swooping away effortlessly. My time at the reserve was almost at an end, and in a land I hoped to glimpse the tiger, it was birds like the white naped woodpecker, rufous treepie, shikra, and white throated kingfisher that kept me fascinated.

A jungle babbler eyeing me suspiciously

Crested serpent eagle

The sun finally managed to break through the clouds on the morning of my departure. Seeing an opportunity, I made my way to the stream. To say that bathing in a cold water under a hot sun while listening to birdsong is relaxing would be a chronic understatement. After a leisure bath, just as I was getting ready to return to camp, I felt a drizzle on my face and shoulders. Fully expecting to see the sun disappear behind another set of rain clouds, I looked up. On the topmost branches of a tree I was standing under, squatted a troop of gray langurs, peering down at me with a bland expression on their coal black faces. I knew now what that drizzle was. I fondly try and think of it as their way of saying goodbye.

Meeting Melghat: A volunteer's account Part 1

A stream gushed through the teak dominated forest that surrounded the camp, running on its stony bed till it formed a waterfall so loud, it could drown a person’s thoughts out. As I lay listening to this watery soundtrack - occasionally broken by the Forest guard’s snores, some over enthusiastic crickets, and a large rat hunting for a snack - I wondered about the wild inhabitants of this stunning Maharashtrian forest, lurking about in the dark, unaware of the strange human who had tried his luck at spotting some of them.

Waterfall, as seen from the watchtower at '0 point'

The stream greeted me when I first arrived at Bori Ghogara, a camp which sits on the border of Melghat Tiger Reserve. The trusty Mahindra Marshall which drove me here could not risk the crossing. So I, with my bags of vegetables, clothes and camera gear, crossed on foot with as much grace as a blindfolded tightrope walker.

Meeting of the Ghats - Hills as far as the eye can see

After introductions with the camp’s staff, I wandered back outside to get a proper look at the ruggedly hilly central Indian landscape I was in. The first thing any visitor to Melghat in the Monsoons will notice is the thick blanket of green that drapes them. The grass bordering the trails, the broad leaves of trees, the moss in the hollows of trunks, even the walls of the camp come in every imaginable shade of green. In the coming months, as summer approaches, this tropical dry deciduous forest will shed most of its green and turn golden brown, bearing very little resemblance to the scene I was witnessing.

Gunjan, out patrolling in his camouflaged outfit on a rainy day 

Over the next eight days, I assisted the Forest guard and his troops on their daily patrols in the forest, documenting what I saw, and observing the excellent tracking and identification skills on display by the mostly tribal staff. The rain, which was unrelenting, made our progress slow. Yet we walked, past rising streams and down slippery slopes, with stomachs stuffed with so much food (a heavy breakfast cum lunch to get us through the day) that the simple act of bending to examine a hoof or paw-print turned into a clumsy affair. 

Paw-prints of a mother leopard and her cub

The creatures of Melghat rarely, if ever, showed themselves. But a leopard and her cub, a lone sloth bear, wild pigs, and an occasional munjtac would all leave their fresh and unmistakable impressions in the soft, wet mud of the forest floor. During the patrols, I remember the feeling of being acutely aware that I was not alone, for even if the animals could not be seen, I knew they were in the vicinity, perfectly hidden behind a veil of green that the forest provided.

Continued in Part 2

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Human rights issues- Can technology help?

Technology/Internet is silently transforming the world into an inclusive world.  Technology by itself is a great leveler;  when used appropriately it is the biggest tool we have got in the developing world.  Human rights issues tend to get attention in a very anecdotal fashion because of media attention, activists groups etc.  In the bargain we tend to forget that human rights issues are universal.  The need for basic amenities and self empowerment are universal issues applicable to every human being.

That is where technology comes in as a great equalizer, as a "magic wand" capable of analyzing millions of statistics in a jiffy and as a tool provider which can literally work on the ground.

As human population increases, human rights issues in the developing worlds grow disproportionately as most of our developmental goals during the first and second industrial revolution focused on growth in terms of generating GDP for the country.  Individuals at the bottom of the pyramid get overlooked unless they manage to contribute their bit towards GDP.  A few rags to riches stories are hyped up by the media but the majority (especially in India) remain where they are, in abysmal conditions as far as human rights go.

Can technology come to their succor?  

Technology itself has not got out of the spiral of innovation and applications (the financial spiral) to be able to concentrate on "uses" of the various applications.  The technology savvy Indians barely got time to look up since the demand for their skills have been very high.  But things are changing, albeit slowly.  This is where the technology mission of Nandan Nilekani and Sam Pitroda in India score.  Sam Pitroda is the father of India's Telecom revolution.   He is behind the technological changes which ensured that sixty million of India's 100 million people remain connected through the mobile network.

Health care, critical weather information for agriculture,  basic education tools are some of the issues affecting the bottom of the pyramid that are getting disseminated through the vast mobile network in India.  India sells 8 million mobile phones a month,  90% of which are to pre-paid users representing unemployed  youth and unorganized labor sector).  This is the sector which is exploited, abused and form the majority  victims of human rights violations

Mr. Nandan Nilekani is currently the Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI)—which aims to provide a unique identification number for all residents of India. The unique identity scheme is at work connecting the billion people in a network which will one day achieve a hub and spoke delivery system based on actual need and devoid of spillages all along the way.  By 2014, 600 million out of 1000 million Indians would be covered by the scheme.  Armed with the unique id (Aadhar  card), bank account and a mobile the individual can transform himself to leverage technology for utilizing public services without a middle man and thus leapfrog into a new era.

The language spoken by these technology czars is Greek to many Indians even in the so called cream of society.  The criticism is harsh, the expectations sky high.  Terms like "hub and spoke delivery", "mentoring by sensors",etc are becoming part of the jargon in the third industrial revolution being witnessed by us.  The sooner the pessimists accept these, the better it will be for all of us.

Can Internet reach the grass roots?  At we have been using online tools (Internet and the social media) to reach out and motivate communities to protect wildlife and wild lands.

Membership profile of

Online environmental programs we promote have had good enrollment from second tier cities.  The wilderness volunteer program we promote has been getting volunteers from the unemployed youth as well as the highly educated urban youth.  A beginning is being made through these programs to bridge the chasm which today exists between the developed world and the so called under developed society.   As all of us know human rights violations occur when natural resources are plundered without a thought for the communities that thrive in these areas.  Understanding and caring for our natural resources is the beginning of wanting to protect them.

The Internet users in India are only about 150 million as of now.  With the rolling out of broad band Internet to reach the villages of India, the the message of volunteering for wilderness India is expected to spread far and wide.  Dreams and aspirations of the ordinary Indian are frustrated at almost every step, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.