रविवार, १९ जुलै, २०१५

How did a Medical Doctor become a Messiah of the Great Indian Bustard? The Story of Dr Pramod Patil.

Dr.Pramod Patil was recently awarded the Whitley Award, a prestigious international nature conservation prize worth £35,000 in project funding, at a ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society, London, in honour of his work to protect the iconic Great Indian Bustard.

Dr. Pramod Patil receiving the Whitley Award from Princess Anne at a ceremony in London
Photo by Whitley Awards Team

The Whitley award is given to conservationists from the developing countries to support projects based on science and community involvement.  

The Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) once flourished across the Indian sub-continent but today fewer than 250 individuals remain in the most densely human-populated desert in the world. 

Here he shares why he chose a different path, his love for the birds and his amazing experiences. 
Dr.Patil speaking at the Whitley Awards function
Photo by Whitley Awards Team

1. Being a medical doctor by education, how did you turn to wildlife conservation? Was there a defining moment? Tell us about your personal journey
I was interested in birds as a child and even participated in a bird watching camp organized by WWF-India, however there was a gap after that. While studying medicine in Sholapur a friend told me about a huge Ostrich like bird in the Sholapur grasslands. I was surprised and very excited. We travelled a long distance to see the bird, but after spending a long disappointing day, just as we were thinking of going back, all of a sudden a large bird landed in a grassland ahead of us. To our greatest surprise it was the stunning Great Indian Bustard! We stood spell bound as it walked a magnificent walk that Dr.Salim Ali used to call the ‘Marshal’s walk’. It started drizzling and the bird started a dance display to attract his mate. I fell in love with the bird, and even today that picture is alive before my eyes. I started visiting the sanctuary regularly, studying the bird, drawing, talking to local people, volunteering for a local NGO Nisarg, my journey from a casual birder to a conservationist began in earnest.

2. How do your family and friends see your chosen career path?
They see it with lot of curiosity. They are happy with my chosen path and they support me in my work. There is a fallacy about ‘career’ that people suffer all their life. The fallacy is that if you invest a large amount of time or money in something you should continue to do it even if you don’t like it. But I think the important thing is to do what you like and take the courageous decision to do it.

Dr. Patil (first from left) in the field with his colleagues
Photo by Siddhesh Surve

3. Congratulations on winning the prestigious Whitley award. How did you feel when you heard that you have been chosen for the ‘Green Oscar’? What does winning this award signify for you and the work you are doing?

My first feeling was that of the sense of responsibility that I will now have to fulfill and the pressure of expectations I will have to face. It was followed by happiness, lots of happiness of course!

This award is significant in several ways. It gives recognition to your work at the global level. It altogether changes people’s perspective of yourself and your work. Several institution and people come forward to support your work.

Second thing, because of such awards you come in contact with several international institutions and experts working in this field. You become a part of their network. This is a huge benefit. You get an understanding of the global level. These great organizations are working worldwide. Being a part of their network you learn their method of working, their attitude, their ideology. You understand how to apply global solutions to local problems.

When you personally meet the stalwarts of your field it has very deep effect on you. Though I was in contact with them for several years meeting them in person is exceptional.

Thus this award brings you great support from all walks of life but also increases your responsibility many folds.

With the legend - Sir David Attenborough at Whitley Awards Fuction
Photo by Whitley Awards Team

4. How does your medical training help in the field of conservation?

I have realized that medical education helps conservation in many ways. Being a doctor people give you lot of respect, they allow you to enter their lives, they discuss with you many medical and personal problems. I help them through counseling and proper guidance. Without medical training it would have been difficult to gain the confidence of the local people and other stakeholders. My medical education helped me in the most constructive ways in the efforts of bustard conservation. In medical science we are taught community medicine, a doctor is community centric by default.

5. How did you decide to work on Great Indian Bustard?

I had fallen in love with the bird at first sight. I wanted to know more about it.Dr.Asad Rahmani of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) warmly opened the BNHS library for me. I continued interacting with local people, local experts, NGOs, conservationists, I started working with the forest department, with Mr.Parihar, YLP Rao, NK Rao, forest guards all of who were very supportive.

One name I would particularly like to mention is that of Mr.Bhagwat Mhaske, a forest guide at the Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary, Sholapur. He opened the treasure trove of information he had gathered over 30 years of observing the bird’s behavior for me. He was my on-field Guru and I feel especially blessed to have met him.

Over time, working together with many people, many institutions helped, we were able to put policies in place for the conservation of Great Indian Bustard.

The Great Indian Bustard

6. What are the challenges you are facing while working on the conservation of Great Indian Bustard?

The greatest challenge is the declining support of the local people. Local people’s involvement in conservation is of utmost importance but the same is disappearing. They don’t love the bird as much as they used to. There are several reasons behind this. They have lost confidence in the system. Winning their trust, getting them involved in conservation is the biggest challenge before us. Other challenges are loss of habitat and poaching. 

Creating awareness about conservation among local people
Photo by Noor Khan

7. Can we save the Bustard?

Yes! We can definitely save the bustards. There are several examples worldwide in which the last 30 or 50 birds or even only a couple of birds were remaining and they were saved and successfully brought back from sure extinction. Only one person, one institution or one award cannot do it. We need joint efforts of all stakeholders. I would say we can certainly save a species if our willpower is strong enough and our efforts are sincere enough. 

8. Please share with us some of the memorable experiences you had while working in this field.

I was in the Desert National Park, Rajasthan. Local people hold a grudge against the Great Indian Bustard as it is perceived to have stopped their development. One day while we were hanging out we saw a shepherd grazing his sheep. We deliberately asked him provocative questions like, “You don’t like Great Indian Bustards and this sanctuary. You would be happy to remove its sanctuary status, wouldn’t you?”To our surprise he said, “You are fools, you don’t understand. Thanks to the Godavan, the land is protected as a sanctuary and since it is protected we are able to graze our sheep, our sheep are our livelihood. If the status of the sanctuary is removed, this land will be used for other developmental activities and destroy the land and our livelihoods”. He loved the ‘Godavan’, bustards are called ‘Godavan’ locally and he explained how grateful he was to have this land protected by law. This was the approach we need to work on to get the support of the local people. I felt elevated after listening to this old, wise shepherd. There are many such memories with people and wildlife. 

9. Your sketches are superb. How did you develop an interest for this beautiful art?

Drawing was my favourite subject during school. Its credit goes to my school teacher Kushe sir. Only when I started bird watching I realized that going into the field, sitting at one place observing birds, that drawing birds became my hobby. The Great Indian Bustard is a magnificent bird, it displays in a very prolific manner, its postures are very unique, it is a very good subject for sketching. That’s how I got involved in this sketching business. I’ve drawn thousands of sketches of bustards and other grassland birds. 

Sketch of the Great Indian Bustard by Dr. Pramod Patil

10. What message would you like to give to our readers?

I think people are very important in life. Whatever little I could achieve is because of different people who guided me, supported me and helped me at different stages throughout my life. Your true wealth is the people around you. No matter how many awards you get, how famous you become you have to live with people. You are going to need them. 

First published in The Better India :



अंबोलीचा ईमेमल प्रकल्प!

आरेफा जोहरी, अनुवाद – परीक्षित सूर्यवंशी

ई मेमल प्रकल्पाचे उद्दिष्ट जंगल भागात राहणाऱ्या शालेय विध्यार्थ्यांना केमेरा ट्रॅप्सद्वारे स्थानिक प्राण्यांचा अभ्यास करायला शिकवणे आहे. या प्रकल्पातून वन्यजीवांची मनमोहून टाकणारी अनेक आश्चर्यकारक छायाचित्रे मिळाली.

महाराष्ट्रातील अंबोलीत केमेरा ट्रेपमध्ये कैद झालेला बिबट्या. सर्व छायाचित्रे : ई मेमल प्रकल्प
महाराष्ट्रातल्या सिंधुदुर्ग जिल्ह्यातील अंबोली गावच्या रहिवाश्यांना हे माहिती तर होते कि आंबोलीच्या जंगलात वाघ आणि बिबटे राहतात परंतु ते गावाच्या इतक्या जवळ येतात हे त्यांना माहिती नव्हते. त्यांना हे तेव्हा समजले जेव्हा स्थानिक शाळेतील मुलांनी त्यांच्या आजूबाजूच्या परिसरात केमेरा ट्रॅप्स बसवले आणि रात्री उशिरा बिबटे गावाजवळ येतात एवढेच नव्हे तर ते येथील माणसे वापरत असलेल्या रस्त्यांवरूनही फिरतात याचे छायाचित्रांच्या रूपाने स्पष्ट पुरावे दिले.

इन्फ्रारेड आणि मोशन सेन्सरयुक्त केमेरा ट्रॅप्स भारतात मुख्यत्वे संकटग्रस्त वाघांच्या संख्येवर नजर ठेवण्यासाठी वापरले जात आलेले आहेत. परंतु अंबोलीचे गावकरी त्यांचा वापर रानडुक्कर, उदमांजर, गवा आणि स्थानिक हरीण या प्राण्यांची, जे सहसा नजरेस पडत नाहीत, चित्ताकर्षक छायाचित्रे काढण्यासाठी करत आहेत.

लहान मुले आणि सामान्य नागरिकांनी छायाचित्रे आणि व्हिडीओद्वारे आपल्या परिसरातील वन्यजीवांचे अध्ययन करावे यासाठी आंतरराष्ट्रीय स्तरावर एक उपक्रम आखण्यात आला - ई मेमल. या प्रकल्पाचा एक भाग म्हणून पश्चिम घाटातील या डोंगराळ, निसर्गरम्य आणि जैवविविधतेते नटलेल्या ठिकाणी केमेरा ट्रॅप्स बसवण्यात आले. ही छायाचित्रे आणि व्हिडीओ ई मेमलच्या वेबसाईटवर आणि फेसबुक पेजवर अपलोड केली जातात.

तीन वर्षांपूर्वी नॉर्थ कॅरोलाईना म्युझिअम ऑफ नेचरल सायन्सेसने हा प्रकल्प अमेरिकेत सुरु केला आणि गेल्या वर्षी मेक्सिको आणि भारत या दोन देशांत त्याचा विस्तार करण्यात आला.
भारतात ई मेमल हा प्रकल्प बॉम्बे नेचरल हिस्ट्री सोसायटीच्या मदतीने राबवला जात आहे. यात सिंधुदुर्ग, पालघर आणि नागपूरमध्ये हा प्रकल्प राबविण्यासाठी महाराष्ट्रातील तीन शाळांची निवड केली आहे. अंबोली येथे मलबार नेचर कन्झर्वेशन क्लबने, जे या क्षेत्रात गेल्या १२ वर्षांपासून निसर्ग आणि वन्यजीव संवर्धनाचे काम करीत आहेत, या प्रकल्पाची अंमलबजावणी केली. यासाठी लागणारी साधने बीएनएचएसने पुरविली. राष्ट्रीय स्तरावर या प्रकल्पाचे समन्वयन बीएनएचएस करत आहे.  

“या प्रकल्पाचे उद्दिष्ट प्राण्यांच्या सवयी, अधिवास आणि वर्तनाच्या अभ्यासातून मुलांना त्यांच्या परिसरातील प्राणी समजून घेण्यास मदत करणे हा आहे.” असे बॉम्बे नेचरल हिस्ट्री सोसायटीचे अभिरक्षक आणि ई मेमलचे भारतातील अध्यक्ष राहुल खोत म्हणाले. ते पुढे म्हणाले, “हा एक ‘नागरिक वैज्ञानिक’ प्रकल्प असल्यामुळे कधीकधी आम्हाला स्थानिक प्राण्यांबद्दल व्यावसायिक संशोधकांपेक्षाही अधिक माहिती मिळते.”

भारतातील काही क्षणचित्रे
२०१४ च्या मध्यात, खोत आणि नॉर्थ कॅरोलाईना येथील तज्ञांच्या एका टीमने उपरोक्त तीन शाळेतील शिक्षक आणि विध्यार्थ्यांना व्यावसायिक केमेरा ट्रॅप्स कसे लावावेत आणि त्यांचा वापर कसा करावा याचे प्रशिक्षण दिले आणि लवकरच सस्तन प्राण्यांच्या रहस्यमय विश्वाचे दर्शन, विशेषतः रात्रीच्या समयीच्या, व्हायला लागले.

पवनी, नागपूर येथील विध्यार्थी केमेरा ट्रेप कसा लावावा हे शिकतांना
“गेल्या सहा महिन्यांत आमच्या मुलांनी केमेरा ट्रॅप्सद्वारे सस्तन प्राण्यांच्या कमीतकमी १० ते १२ प्रजातींची छायाचित्रे घेतली आहेत, ज्यातील काही त्यांनी पूर्वी कधीच पाहिलेल्या नव्हत्या.” असे अंबोली येथील युनियन पब्लिक स्कूलचे शिक्षक प्रसाद गावडे म्हणाले. या शाळेतील सहावी ते आठवीची मुले दर रविवारी ई मेमल प्रकल्पांतर्गत जंगलभेटीवर जातात. या शाळेला तीन केमेरा ट्रॅप्स देण्यात आलेले आहेत. ते हे केमेरा ट्रॅप्स वेगवेगळ्या ठिकाणी एका वेळी एका आठवड्यासाठी ठेवतात. गेल्या काही महिन्यांत त्यांनी आपल्या गावातील आणि आजूबाजूच्या परिसरातील १६ ठिकाणी केमेरा ट्रॅप्स लावले आणि पुढील सहा महिन्यांत आणखी बऱ्याच ठिकाणी ते लावण्याची त्यांची योजना आहे.

नागपूर जिल्ह्यात आढळून आलेला रिंग टेल्ड स्मॉल इंडिअन सिव्हीट

गावडे यांच्या विध्यार्थ्यांना आढळून आलेली सर्वांत मजेशीर गोष्ट म्हणजे जंगलाच्या आजूबाजूचे तेच रस्ते प्राणी वापरतात जे माणसे वापरतात – त्यांच्या वापराच्या वेळा वेगळ्या असतात एवढेच!
नागपूरमधील पवनीयेथील जय सेवा आदर्श शाळेच्या विद्यार्थ्यांनी वाघांबद्दल हाच पाठ शिकला. त्यांचे गाव काही संरक्षित व्याघ्र क्षेत्रांतर्गत येत नाही तरीही त्यांच्या केमेरा ट्रॅप्समध्ये दोन पट्टेरी वाघ रात्रीच्या वेळी त्याच रस्त्यावरून फिरतांना दिसले ज्यावरून दिवसा स्थानिक लोक ये-जा करत असतात.
नॉर्थ कॅरोलाईना म्युझिअम ऑफ नेचरल सायन्सेसच्या बायोडायव्हर्सिटी लॅबचे संचालक, रॉलेंड केय्स म्हणाले, “दोन व्याघ्र उद्यानांदरम्यान ये-जा करण्यासाठी वाघ कोणत्या असंरक्षित जोडमार्गांचा वापर करतात याचा शोध लावणे अत्यंत महत्त्वाचे आहे. या शालेय मुलांनी ही माहिती मिळविण्यासाठी मदत केली हे पाहून खरंच आश्चर्य वाटते.”

नागपूरमध्ये वाघ माणसे वापरत असलेला रस्ता वापरतांना आढळून आले

मुलांना निसर्ग आणि वन्यजीव संवर्धनाचे महत्त्व समजावून सांगण्यासाठी ई मेमल हा प्रकल्प अत्यंत परिणामकारक ठरला असल्याचे गावडे म्हणाले. ते म्हणतात, “मुलांना आता जंगल नष्ट झाल्यास उद्भवणाऱ्या धोक्याची जाणीव झाली आहे कारण यामुळे कोणते प्राणी बेघर होतील हे त्यांनी प्रत्यक्ष पाहिले आहे.”    

अमेरिका आणि मेक्सिकोत
महाराष्ट्राच्या शाळेतील विध्यार्थी आपल्या अमेरिका आणि मेक्सिकोतील समकक्ष मित्रांशी अधूनमधून संवाद साधतात. यात ते एकमेकांना आपापल्या परिसरात घेतलेली सस्तन प्राण्यांची छायाचित्रे दाखवतात आणि त्यांच्याबद्दल माहित झालेल्या गोष्टी सांगतात.

मेक्सिकोतील गुडालाजरायेथे एक जागुआरूंडी एका खारीची शिकार करतांना. ही रानमांजर सहसा माणसांना दिसत नाही त्यामुळे हा फोटो पाहून विध्यार्थ्यांना खूप आश्चर्य वाटले. 

युएसएमधील व्हर्जिनिया प्रांतातील एका जंगलातील अस्वले.

अंबोलीतील आठव्या वर्गात शिकणारा पार्थ भिसे म्हणतो, “दुसऱ्या देशातील प्राणी पाहणे ही खरोखर खूपच मजेदार गोष्ट आहे. अमेरिकेतील बॉबकेट हा माझा आवडता प्राणी आहे.” या प्रकल्पाबाबत अधिक जाणून घेण्यासाठी पुढच्या महिन्यात आपल्या शिक्षकांसोबत नॉर्थ कॅरोलाईनाला जाण्यासाठी पार्थची निवड झाली आहे.

नॉर्थ कॅरोलाईनात केमेरा ट्रेपमध्ये कैद झालेली एक बॉबकेट

केमेरा ट्रेपकडे जिज्ञासेने पाहतांना व्हर्जिनियातील कोयॉट्स