The tree whisperer

http://www.thehindu.com/children/the-tree-whisperer/article19834741.ece

Trees, writes Peter Wohlleben in his book, The Hidden Life of Trees, are social beings. They can defend themselves, share resources, and communicate with each other using “olfactory, visual, and electrical signals”.

In Ranjit Lal’s new book, The Trees of Medley Gardens (Red Turtle), they can talk your ear off. They will gossip, tease, dole out wisdom, and even play pranks on you. When Tadpole and her brother Vishwajit move with their family, they discover that the sacred grove of trees from the neighbouring Medley Gardens can talk to them. Soon they befriend the wise old Banyan Ustadji, the Peepul Princesses, and find out exactly what the Mango trees think of kids scampering up and down their branches, stealing mangoes. But the trees are hiding a secret and it all maybe unearthed if the owners of Medley Gardens decide to sell the place. It all comes down to Tadpole, Vish, and his friend Zafia to figure out what to do.

“The idea came about because I felt that trees were just taken for granted (and cut down at will) and ignored – way out of proportion to their worth, and considering what they do for us – and all of life,” said Lal, over email. Lal’s love for both flora and fauna is well-documented in many of his books, whether it’s The Tigers of Taboo Valley (Red Turtle), The Caterpillar Who Went on a Diet and Other Stories (Puffin), or Every Dog has its Tale (Scholastic).

Lal insists that he doesn’t talk to trees in real life and which is why he turned to fiction for that conversation. “Am nuts enough without actually having to go and have conversations with trees (nor do I hug them as some nasty ‘Rottweiler’ of an ant is sure to bite me in the armpits) so I made the kids do that in the story,” he said. “I think the most ‘memorable’ conversation [in the book] has to be the one where it is pointed out to Ustadji, that while he may be the grand old ‘tree of knowledge’ and a ‘keystone’ species blah blah blah, he and his ilk are still dependent for their survival on a minuscule wasp. Something we need to remember otherwise too.”

That is one of the key takeaways from the book – how everyone’s survival on this planet is inextricably linked with each other. “All you have to do is to is to take time out and think a little – and it’ll all become very clear how dependent all life forms are on trees and plants,” Lal explained. The children in the book realise that they can talk to pretty much any tree, flower, or animal. Sometimes it’s annoying because really some of the plants can be a bit of a sap like the hypochondriac Neems that are always whining. It can also be scary when they meet the dreadful Julifloraa that are armed to the teeth with spiked thorns. While at other times, they have some fabulous chats about life on planet Earth, whether it’s seed dispersal or events in history.

Lal manages to do all this without preaching, and at the same time he ensures that the reader is chuckling and guffawing through the book. “If I start yawning or nod off or start fidgeting while writing I know I’m being preachy and also of course totally boring,” said Lal, about his own writing. For instance, at one point, the mischievous (and pompous) grasses burst out in song, praising themselves, “Without us grasses, you won’t have bread! Without us grasses you’ll all be dead!” they then go on to talk about how they, the grasses, have taken over most of the land in the world – “You came, you planted, we conquered!” Food Security lesson 101.

Lal is concerned that children are more and more disconnected with nature today. “Yes, they’re less connected to nature thanks to the Internet, TV, video games, social (or rather anti-social) media etc,” he said. “They need to go out more – and not to malls! What gives one hope is watching kids play on and around trees, whenever they’re presented with the opportunity and their parents/teachers are not hovering around armed with hand sanitizers and having hysterics! I still believe if you leave a kid near a tree – give him/her some time and space and take away the smartphone etc – he/she will be halfway up the tree within the hour!” Honestly, after reading The Trees of Medley Gardens,that just be one side effect your children may end up with – climbing and talking to trees.

In fact, Lal points out that even grown-ups need to do the same. “We stop ‘talking to’ trees as we become adults because we think only kids should do so,” he said. “Actually you don’t have to talk to trees, you just need to sit beneath one, or on one and listen. We do too much talking and too little listening anyway!”

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Why we need to talk about climate change

http://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/why-we-need-to-talk-about-climate-change/article19757788.ece

Kids, it’s time to sit your parents down and have THAT chat. Yes, that one. That life-changing one. Make sure your parents are comfortable, ply them with plenty of tea, coffee, or a beverage of their choice. Ask them to turn their mobile phones off, or at least keep them on silent. After all, talking about climate change isn’t going to be easy.

First, start with the basics. The climate is changing – it’s real. No matter what the politicians say. Or the news does not say.

Take them through the science – the greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide – that are being pumped into the air, how they are warming the atmosphere, trapping heat, melting ice caps, causing sea levels to rise, and so on and so forth. Now just because there’s an average rise in temperature doesn’t mean that the entire planet will warm equitably (Yes, see anticipating questions from the grown-ups already). It means that some places may get cooler and have longer winters, while others may see devastating monsoons. We are already seeing all of that happen.

Next, explain to them that we are living in the age of Anthropocene. Say it slowly – anth-ro-po-ceee-neeee. Elaborate that this means that human activity is accelerating climate change. Burning fossil fuels, pollution, deforestation all of that keeps pushing the temperature up.

Second, it’s exacerbating extreme weather conditions. Third, our cities are not resilient or adapting fast enough to these extreme weather conditions. We don’t have the infrastructures or the plans in place. We just do not.

If there’s some vociferous talk about “development” versus “environment – one of the most inane debates ever – remind them that extreme weather events leads to loss of human life and infrastructure. Which all racks up a bill that is heavy on our GDPs. We need clean air, drinking water and soil to survive, and that is just a basic truth. And also, vital to development.

And lastly, spell this out, repeat if necessary – we are children and we are not going to “save” the planet. Because the Earth does not need saving, she’s going to be fine. Plus, there’s homework to do and unit tests to mug up for. So, it comes back to the grown-ups who have the power to get their voices heard and at least show their dissent about what’s happening. After all, no child wants to inherit a planet stuffed with greenhouse gases and problems of this gargantuan proportions.

Here’s the thing – grown-ups are not talking about this. At least not enough. A friend said right on the heels of Mumbai’s floods, the teachers in her niece’s school did not think it was important to chat about what had happened and why. I am sure that many children must have exulted at the thought of no school the next day, but they must wonder, why is this happening time and again, and why are we not prepared for this. Let’s face it, if children don’t get answers to their questions, then they will find out for themselves. And perhaps they will be better equipped to help grown-ups understand what is happening.

I go to classrooms often to talk to children about my book So You Want to Know About the Environment. Increasingly I feel this constant worm of worry when I realise how little tweenagers and teachers understand climate change. One student told me that it’s when you go up a mountain and the air becomes thinner, that’s climate change. Another smart aleck told me it means the climate is changing. Well, yes. But it’s only when we begin talking about how relentless the last summer was or a particular flood, that they start nodding and realising that climate change is not something that’s happening in the Arctic regions or other far flung places, it’s occurring everywhere and impacting everyone. And all of us.

So, kids, have that chat. It’s time.

Safaris in a Box

http://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/safaris-in-a-box/article19595440.ece

Having worked with a number of animal advocacy and wildlife conservation organisations, most of my friends assume that I know everything there is to know about animals. Especially birds. So, when we hear a bird call on a nature trail, they look at me expectantly. They are waiting for me to name the species, and that too without the help of Google or a Rememberall. Of course, I can name a few– a flash of blue means kingfisher, a flutter of a black and white tail and I can wisely whisper, “tree pie”, or declare with some swagger that the birds circling in the air above are raptors. Try it sometime. It sounds clever and everyone believes you if you say it confidently enough.

Fortunately, help has come to me in the form of wildlife games, which have now become a staple at gatherings and a trusted travel companion. Of course these are actually meant for children, and are fantastic tools that teachers can use in the classroom as well.

Last Wilderness Bingo and Dominoes: When going away on a vacation, card games are an easy travel companion. They are light and easy to slip into any bag. Which is why I was thrilled when I came across the Last Wilderness Foundation’s Wildlife Bingo. The bilingual game’s simple – you have to collect nine stones to begin the game. Each player is given one bingo card which has different trees, animals, birds, and reptiles drawn on them. The stack of individual animal cards go into a bag. To play, you pick out a card from the bag and call out the name of the animal, which is written in English and Hindi. Show the card to players and put it aside. The players that have the particular animal on their bingo cards place a stone on it. The first player to have stones on all nine species yells “Bingo!” and wins.

Of course, I have put a new spin on the game and call it Story Bingo. Each player makes up a story with the bingo card they get; and all the species on the card need to be in their tale. We have come up with tall tales of a Chow-Singha that loves eating and a Barn Owl that has insomnia. The cards are beautifully illustrated and promise hours of fun.

Then there’s the Dominoes game – there are 30 cards divided in half, forming two squares. One square has the name of an animal, and the other a different animal’s name. Players have to find the matching animal and place it next to its correct name. There are lots of possible combinations and it gets harder to place the cards correctly as the game progresses. Available at lastwilderness.org.

Nature Conservation Foundation Bird Flash Cards: These set of 40 flashcards introduce children (and me) to 40 common birds of India. One side has photos of the bird and the other details about its natural history, habitat and food. There’s also a quiz, which I tanked the first time around, but I promise you I am getting better at it.

The cards double up for a memory game, just like the playing cards memory game. And from their website, you can even download a free instruction PDF on how to use the flashcards for different games such as drawing and quizzing.

I also use the cards as writing prompts when conducting workshops with children. The free e-kit comes with a common birds’ sound folder – and you can listen and identify the sounds of the Asian koel, black kite, and white-throated kingfisher, among others. All birds that I can now identify. Mission accomplished! Available at instamojo.com/NCF.

Kaadoo: Kaadoo is a board game, and the makers call “a safari in a box”. What I love about this game is that the pawns are crafted by Channapatna toy makers and the animal sighting cards hand-painted by wildlife artists. The games are available in different versions including the Nilgiri Biosphere, African Savannah, Western India, and Central India editions.

Playing is simple – you roll the dice to move around the “forest” board, and get to collect animal sighting cards. It involved math and natural history both. What is amazing is that the game instructions are available in 17 languages! Their newest game, Jungle Patrol, requires the player to assist forest rangers to outwit notorious brigands from entering the core of the jungle and wreaking havoc. If only real life could be this awesome. Available at kaadoothebiggame.com.

P.S. If I encounter a bird or insect that I can’t identify despite these games, I promptly message my wildlife friend, Radha Rangarajan, and she answers all my queries. But unfortunately not everyone has their own phone-a-friend option, which is why, game on.

The last straw

http://www.thehindu.com/children/the-last-straw/article18731296.ece

A few weeks ago, a video of an olive ridley sea turtle in Costa Rica went viral. It wasn’t because the turtle was doing something cute or gif-worthy. It was because a plastic straw had got embedded into one of its nostrils and the turtle looked like it was having trouble breathing. It’s a hard video to watch – the scientists hover around the turtle to try and wiggle the straw out for ten whole minutes. At one point, blood starts to stream from the nostril, while the turtle looks miserable. There’s palpable relief as the ten-centimetre long wedged straw is finally pried out by the scientists. It’s one of the most horrible things to see, and most people I know couldn’t bear to watch the video. Even the mere mention of it makes everyone shudder.

A piece of straw is an innocuous thing. It’s itty-bitty and almost invisible. And the straw is just kind of there, bobbing about in your drink. Say, you are at a restaurant and your child wants fresh lime soda or watermelon juice (oh surely, you don’t mean cola), while you order cocktails, straws it seems, have become a must-have. In fact, it’s almost like that annoying practice, where the staff asks you – bottled water or filter water. The correct answer, as anyone with an iota of brain cell, knows is filter water. Yet, it’s a question that is responsible for tons of plastic being added to landfills and oceans.

And when it comes to straws, there’s an array to choose from – in fact, the fancier the better. There are the plain plastic straws, then the L-shaped ones, and then the bendy ones in all sorts of fun colours and shapes. Suck a bit, and it’s exciting to see your beverage of choice go up and down like a roller coaster. Wheeee! And for a child, it can seem like the coolest thing ever. Plus, the gurgling sound they can make at the end of a drink. Bonus points for that!

But what happens after you are done chugging the beverage? That piece of plastic goes into the bin. If you are at the beach and having coconut water, the chain is even more clear. The straw goes into the water. To bob along with marine life.

One of the saddest pictures I saw on Instagram was of a Yellow Goby fish who was living in a makeshift home inside an abandoned soda can. The photo was taken by Brian Skerry. The caption by National Geographic further explained that one estimate cites “5.25 trillion pieces of plastic [are] currently circulating with the ocean”. I don’t even know how to quantify this figure in my head.

There are ways to be less of a sucker though. And they are less difficult than having a turtle gag on a piece of straw and try to regurgitate the plastic through its nose. It’s simply explaining the restaurant staff, for instance, that you want a drink without a straw. Nine out of ten times they will still bring the drink with a straw. Like the other day, when we were at a restaurant and ordered lassi. The drink came in solid steel tumblers, but with straws! Who drinks lassi with straw? Why? How? It’s supposed to be thick enough to eat with a spoon. But no, straw we must. If your building recycles, then take the offending plastic piece home and put it in the right bin.

Most importantly, explain to your children why a straw is really a useless accessory. Kids are sensitive, and they care about animals and pollution. They will end up taking the lead in this drive.

Once you get started, it’s kind of hard to stop. Refuse disposable cutlery and accessories when ordering food. Most delivery services have horrendous amounts of Styrofoam, plastic, and foil in their packaging. I have a colleague who managed to convince her food delivery service to switch to steel dabbas. It didn’t even take time.

Of course, it would be great if restaurants make the use of straws optional. I am sure there are tricky customers who demand a straw. But perhaps it’s easier to explain why you are not offering a straw. Or like the bottled water versus filtered water question, this too can become part of your staff’s vocabulary. Feel free to rephrase the question but here’s an example – “Would you like that juice without straw? Or would you prefer a straw and cause permanent damage to our oceans and marine life with your choice.”

What are you reading this Earth Day?

http://www.earthamag.org/stories/2017/4/6/11-delightful-childrens-books-on-nature-and-environment

11 delightful children’s books on nature and environment

Here’s a list of books that are must-haves on your children’s bookshelves. And we wouldn’t be surprised if you ended up borrowing them to read as well.

 The Honey Hunter

Karthika Naïr and Joëlle Jolivet

Young Zubaan

This marvellous book done in pop colours takes you to the Sundarbans, introducing children to mangroves, the honey hunters, and the tiger. Karthika Naïr’s prose is eloquent, while Joëlle Jolivet’s illustrations will make you want to linger over each lavishly produced page.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BCKxqvGlAuQ/?taken-by=bam_books

https://www.instagram.com/p/BIWt3l0gI4A/

Baaware Beej

Vishakha Chanchani

Tulika Books

Tree babies, as a friend calls seeds, are magical things. And if there was a book that would make you love Hindi and prose, it’s Baawre Beej (roughly translates to wild and mad seeds). This picture book by Vishaka Chanchani is about farmer Beeju Bhaiya and talks about seeds, earth and soil. The tempo of the prose makes it a perfect read aloud story – at the end of which you will be giddy with joy and itching to go and plant some seeds.

Talking of seeds, also check out Deepa Balsavar’s The Seed (Tulika Books), a wonderful bilingual book which will make the young ones toddle off to garden.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BSYdhIlhuql/?taken-by=bam_books

https://www.instagram.com/p/BGbI696lAsq/

Nature and Environment STEM Books

Various

Pratham Books StoryWeaver

For the last couple of years, the Pratham Books’ StoryWeaver platform has been creating STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – books. I got the opportunity to edit a set of books on nature and environment for them. There are books on a range of subjects, including climate change, littering, green heroes, environment and migration, seeds, seasonal foods, and canopy forests. Many of these books are also available in multiple languages! You can read about them here: http://blog.prathambooks.org/2017/04/have-you-seen-all-our-latest-green-books.html.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BRaiKtph2Wk/?taken-by=bam_books

https://www.instagram.com/p/BEVJZrvlAlg/

When I grow up I want to be a Tiger

Prerna Singh Bindra and Maya Ramaswamy

Speaking Tiger

Meet T-Cubs, a darling little tiger cub who does what tiger cubs do. He plays, he frolics, and he learns to hunt alongside his mother. All is well in his forest, until one day his Ma disappears. Suddenly the threats that face T-Cub become alarmingly real. Will T-Cub get to grow up to be a tiger? Maya Ramaswamy’s gorgeous illustrations plunge you into the marvellous forests of India. And it’s a joy to learn about the tiger’s characteristics through Prerna Singh Bindra’s writings.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQhj4pfFlgV/

Birds from my Window and the Antics they get up to

Ranjit Lal

Scholastic

When it comes to nature writing for children, Ranjit Lal’s books are a wonderful gateway into that world. He writes with his characteristic dry wit and astute understanding of animals. In Birds from My Window, he writes about the everyday feathered friends he observes – from the little brown sparrow to the jungle babblers. Budding ornithologists will love this book. Also, check out The Tigers of Taboo Valley (Red Turtle) by Lal. It’s the story of a Rana Shaan-Bahadur, the alpha-male tiger of Sher-Kila National Park, who finds himself lumped with the care of four tiger cubs. It’s a hilarious story with some hard truths about the perils our forests face today.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BI_u-rZAbD1/

The Sea in a Bucket

Deepa Balsavar and Priti Rajwade

Eklavya

In just ten pages, The Sea in a Bucket tells the story of the water cycle. Sonu is heading to the community tap to fill up a bucket of water, but he ends up learning about its journey from the sea to his bucket. Deepa Balsavar’s illustrations make for a lovely pullout poster at the end of the book with the entire ecosystem on it.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BI1h_xfg92j/

Trash! On Ragpicker Children and Recycling

Gita Wolf, Anushka Ravishankar and Orijit Sen

Tara Books

In the note to Parents and Educators, the authors explain that the book “evolved from a series of workshops” that were conducted with rag picker children. “We decided to write this book on the complex issues of child labour and the environment because we believe that problematic themes have a place in children’s literature. Books can deal openly and honestly with the harsher realities of life, which children see around them every day”. Trash! tells the story of Velu, who runs away from his home and comes to Chennai, a city in South India. Here he is befriended by Jaya, a ragpicker. The book is peppered with exercises such as Houses from Trash – where readers have to observe a slum settlement and think “what some people throw away as waste is valuable to others”. They then also have to identify the waste that often goes into the making of slums.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BGj4PqkFAqN/

Our Toxic World: A guide to hazardous substances in our everyday lives

Aniruddha Sen Gupta and Priya Kurian

Sage Publications and Toxics Link.

Our Toxic World is a graphic novel co-published by Delhi-based NGO Toxic Link. The book is divided into 12 parts that look at Construction, Automobile pollution, Environmental laws, Industrial pollution, chemicals, Electronic waste, Plastics, Heavy metals, Food, Household waste, Recycling, and Festivals.

The story is told through the eyes of a family and in the form of a graphic novel. The comic form works very well, making a complex subject easy to understand and accept. Further, panel pages alternate with fact sheets that talk about hazardous substances and also offer solutions for non-toxic everyday products.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BGQbX_qFAhb/

Alphabet Books

Various

You are never too old for alphabet books, especially for fun ones like these books. Prabha Mallya looks at collective nouns in The Alphabet of Animals and Birds (Red Turtle). Learn about a pride of lions as well that a group of owls is called a parliament! There’s also the wonderful Book of Beasts (Duckbill) by M Krishnan, with some beautiful illustrations by one of the country’s most beloved naturalists.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BEcqlAdFAqY/

The Six Spellmakers of Dorabji Street

Shabnam Minwalla

Hachette India.

Journalist Shabnam Minwalla’s charming book is based in Mumbai. Nivi and Nikhil move to the city with their parents and quickly befriend other children who live in Cosy Castle on Dorabji Street. However, Nivi and her new best friend Sarita find that their lovely hideout, a gigantic tree in the community garden, is going to be felled by two evil neighbours. Using their wit and with a little bit of magic, they set about foiling their plans and saving their beloved tree.

Farmer Falgu series

Chitra Soundar and Kanika Nair

Karadi Tales

If you’re looking for a book where a farmer is the protagonist, then turn to Chitra Soundar’s Farmer Falgu series. In Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market, the farmer must get his produce to the market. Off he goes on his cart, but the journey is filled with lots of disasters! Will he get to the market in time? In Farmer Falgu Takes a Trip, the farmer takes a holiday from his farm and heads off on his cart. Does he find the solace he wants? Farmer Falgu Goes Kite Flying is also part of the series.

 

Ten ways to observe World Earth Day

http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/ten-ways-to-observe-world-earth-day/article18187308.ece

Happy Earth Day everyone! April 22 is celebrated across the world to remember the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. Over time, it has become one of the many green days, on which we are besieged with pleas to save the planet and sharing breathtakingly beautiful photos of flora and fauna and talking about how there’s only one planet, yada yada yada. In keeping with the spirit of things, I just wanted to start off the celebrations with a checklist for our children. Here’s a list of things that our kids can definitely use for Earth Day.

1. Long walks in the park, when we can find them. Stopping frequently – not to check our mobile phones – but to examine a seed pod or a fascinating bug.

2. Stories that inspire and tales that remind us about the gorgeous planet we live in. And storytellers to write and draw them.

3. Clean-up drives, but ones attended by grown-ups as well. Why do children keep having to pick up their trash?

4. Broadcasts from Slooh, the online astronomy service, where NASA astronauts Stanley Love and Tracy Caldwell Dyson will share “what they missed most about Earth when they went into space, and how they felt to be looking down on our “pale blue dot.”

5. Clean, fresh air, water, food, soil, and you know, essential stuff like that.

6. A nature journal, and access to nature to observe and record it.

7. Logging on to NASA’s Adopt the Planet website and virtually adopting a piece of Earth as seen from space. They will even get an adoption certificate and get to mine Earth science data. More exciting, inclusive science.

8. Introduce them to a tree – let them befriend it, adopt it, even write a thank you card to it.

9. David Attenborough, Arati Kumar-Rao, Bittu Sahgal, Rachel Carson, Claude and Norma Alvares, Prerna Singh Bindra, Jane Goodall, Vidya Athreya, Ullas Karanth, Rohan Chakravarty, and many more inspiring people. Media outlets that give them space to be heard.

10. Climate-literate parents and peers.

And then, here’s a list of things our kids don’t need for Earth Day.

1. Policies that greenlight forest clearances and then speeches on going green, along with coffee table book launches on the many splendours of the planet.

2. Realms of newsprint dedicated to the colour green. Everything green – from the font to the masthead. But little coverage on environmental matters.

3. Advertisements that jump up and down and clamour to be heard because, well, their agency gave them a green makeover for the day. Especially for that day. You know, to win awards later in the day as well.

4. Brown paper packages and plastic bags (from all that shopping) that clog up our landfills. And all their contents, which scientists believe, may become technofossils (technology that will fossilize), and add a distinct geological layer upon the Earth.

5. RJ/ Broadcaster/Listicle-writer speak on how green is the new black.

6. Bleached coral reefs and species extinction.

7. Boring environmental education text books.

8. ‘Meri Desh ki Dharti’ on loop. No thanks.

9. Hyper-processed foods concocted in labs or ingredients flown half-way across the planet, racking up food miles. Local produce does very nicely.

10. Never-ending talks to children, as to how it’s their responsibility to save the planet. No, it’s not. They have lots of homework to do. It’s the grown-ups’ responsibility, and we are failing miserably. In fact, if we were in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, we’d get a T for Troll.

Tigers are people too

http://www.thehindu.com/books/tigers-are-people-too/article17343177.ece

All T-Cub wants to do is grow up to be a tiger. And really, it shouldn’t be this hard — he is a tiger cub already. And that’s when we meet him, in When I Grow Up I Want to be a Tiger, a picture book by Prerna Singh Bindra and Maya Ramaswamy, where he is splashing about in water, jumping at his copy-cat tiger reflection, learning to hunt through play. Life’s good for T-Cub, until one day, his mother vanishes, and the cub and his sibling are left to fend for themselves. Which makes you wonder, with all the threats that the species faces, will T-Cub grow up to be a tiger?

Joys of childhood

Published by Speaking Tiger, the picture book brings together the wonders of the forest and the magnificence of the tiger, along with the many threats this animal faces today. At the same time, it’s a book about the joys of childhood, and the wonderful bond between parents and their children. Beautifully produced, When I Grow Up is designed by Pranav Capila, editor of Second Skin Media, an editorial and design agency focused on wildlife conservation.

As a journalist, Bindra has written over 1,500 articles on nature and wildlife, and authored The King and I: Travels in Tigerland and Voices in the Wilderness for adults. When I Grow Up is her first book for children. “I ran a nature column for children for maybe a year. I did it for The Asian Age,” said Bindra, who has also worked with Sanctuary Asia. “See, the world of conservation is a grim one. Full of ‘bad’ stories of forests being destroyed, elephants being crushed by trains, tigers and pangolins being poached, leopards being beaten to death, rivers being dammed and polluted… you get the drift? It’s a constant battle, and the despair hits you. So, I sat back, and thought, why do I do this? And the answer is: Because I care! Because nature is magical, mysterious, it inspires wonder, and awe. I decided to pen this book… to revive that little bit of magic.”

And the book inspires wonder, more so because of Ramaswamy’s illustrations — they are lush and awe-inspiring. A hornbill flies out of one page, and on another, a tiger’s tail disappears around a verdant corner. Ramaswamy, who is known for her wildlife art, conjures up a forest with her brush, the animals and birds rendered with painstaking detail. “Maya got the pulse of the story,” said Bindra, “and she has made T-Cub and his ma, and his sister come alive… the illustrations are gorgeous, and I fell in love with T-Cub all over again.”

T-Cub is the amalgamation of the many tiger cubs that Bindra has met over time, during her trips to the forests of India. Snippets from fellow conservationist and forest staff have gone into the book, making it a veritable trove of information about tigers. “I remember when I went to Bandhavgarh, I saw a tigress sleeping with her three cubs. One of them, the forest guard told me, was a male and a curious kid. And bold. The cub got up to take a closer look. As her got a little too close, the mamma got up in a second, snarled, and gave him a sound whack which had him scurrying back to her! She was disciplining him, just like our mothers do!

Wildlife faces a crisis

There’s a sense of beauty, followed by a feeling of urgency in the story. Bindra’s work — she has been a member of India’s National Board for Wildlife and its Standing Committee from 2010 to 2013 — has always fuelled the discussion around wildlife conservation. “There is a sense of urgency in the wildlife scenario today,” said Bindra. “Wildlife is facing its worst crisis ever; we are in the age of the sixth extinction. How can one ignore that, or not care? It’s intrinsic to the work I do, it is why I do what I do. And yes, the sense of urgency, or the conservation message does weave in my writing, whether it be travelogues or for children. The sense of beauty moves you to care for the tiger, the forest and what you care for, you fight for.”

But mostly for Bindra, this book is important because she feels the need to share the tiger’s story with children. “It is also because I find children increasingly very removed from nature, the outdoors, these days,” she said. “I hope it will bring tigers alive for them, show them that tigers are people too (only better!), that animals, even tigers have personalities.”

Making sense of violent times

http://www.thehindu.com/children/Making-sense-of-violent-times/article17024938.ece

As a journalist living in Srinagar, Majid Maqbool is no stranger to violent conflict. But he was caught by surprise when his three-year-old daughter saw a newspaper with photos of children blinded by injuries and asked, “Isko eyes main pellet aaya hai?” “She had picked up the word from the afternoon news my parents watch,” speculated Maqbool, who until then thought his daughter was insulated from the events around them. Noorain is only a toddler, but she is increasingly curious about why her school is shut for long periods because of curfews and is familiar with words such as tear gas and how to cover her face and hide in a corner to avoid the smoke from tear gas shells.

We live in a time when we are witness to terrible occurrences across the world, whether it’s the situation in Kashmir, Bastar, or Syria. Even our cities are no strangers to violent conflicts — whether it’s the Babri Masjid communal riots of 1992, the siege of Mumbai on 26/11, or conflicts sparking over water issues like in Bengaluru. Children are particularly vulnerable and susceptible to what is happening around them or even far away from them. It can cause extreme trauma and stress.

“Children are not adults-in-waiting,” says Shreya Jani, managing trustee at Standing Together to Enable Peace Trust. Jani says, “They see the world and sense it pretty deeply in my experience. When exploring any idea with children, or adults for that matter, one needs to inculcate a scientific temper along with compassion. Ask them questions about what they think they are hearing or seeing. How does it make them feel? Why is it happening, according to them? Push them to seek their own answers and guide them through this inquiry though compassion.”

As a child, it’s often hard to make sense of what is happening. The television is always on at home, newspapers, websites and radio bear graphic images and videos of violence. Last year, when Bengaluru erupted into violence to protest against the Cauvery judgement in September, a friend narrated an incident — a child, as she was being ushered home from school, asked her mother the purpose behind actions like burning buses or harming public property. Given the easy access to media, most children can easily find answers in one quick Google search, but they may not always be the most appropriate ones.

According to clinical psychologist Sonali Gupta, if your child asks about a particular conflict, it’s crucial to have a conversation, because otherwise they may end up building their own narratives in their head. “Even if you’ve not spoken about it to your children, they have may have heard about it from other children, or at school,” says Gupta, who is a practising therapist and has worked with clients from Afghanistan who were exposed to conflict.

Gupta’s daughter, who is now seven years old, heard about the 2015 Paris attacks in school during the morning prayer and later, she heard versions from older students in the school bus. “She came home and said I want to read about it,” recounts Gupta. Instead of handing over a newspaper or turning on the news, Gupta encouraged her daughter to ask questions and she tackled them. “First, find out how much they know about it,” she recommends. “Once you know, have a conversation about it. Explain to them in a very fact-based manner. And allow them to share their feelings about it.”

For Maqbool too, it’s crucial to explain to his daughter what is happening in Kashmir. “I think as a parent I would want her to understand what is happening around her,” he says. “As children ask questions and then maybe get answers to their questions in bits and pieces, they understand. I would be uncomfortable telling such a young child everything since it can be confusing. But at the same time, I find that they are often quick in finding out when some harm happens,” adds Maqbool. Gupta says that in cases where a child is not aware of the conflict situation happening in remote place at all it’s okay not to talk about it. However, parents need to foster spaces where children can feel comfortable talking and sharing.

Peace education in schools is one way of helping children navigate the world they live in. “Peace education is very important as the world has becoming more apparently interconnected,” says Jani, who has a Masters in the subject from University for Peace in Costa Rica.

Gupta adds that it’s crucial to inject hope into the conversation with your child. “There is violence, yes, but talk about non-violence and compassion,” she says adding, “How there’s hope. Talk about community building efforts, for one, how the law works, and how the situation can be resolved eventually.” Jani agrees. “Engage children,” she stresses, “Make them think at the same time feel and share these feelings. Always channelise it towards a positive action response that they can take to overcome these negative emotions and foster compassion and reflection and inquiry.”

Why did the leopard cross the road?

https://www.natureinfocus.in/page/why-did-the-leopard-cross-the-road

Here’s a riddle.

Why did the leopard cross the road?

Because she was hungry, and she saw a zebra crossing.

Actually, that’s not true. Unlike us, leopards don’t understand that you need to look first left, then right, then left again, before crossing the road. They don’t know the rules behind the zebra crossing stripes on the road either (honestly, who can blame them, motorists also don’t seem to know that they shouldn’t stand on the zebra crossing; pedestrians have the right of way there). All these rules are made by humans, and it is silly of us to pave a road in the middle of a forest, and then expect leopards or elephants or other animals to know road crossing rules.

Nor do animals get boundaries. Your house or apartment block must have a wall and a gate to mark its perimeter. You know that you can’t just jump into another person’s house (unless you know them) because one, it’s not polite, and two, it’s not safe, and hello, it’s trespassing. But these are man-made boundaries. We don’t ask for permission from forest animals before mowing their trees down to build houses, grow crops, or mine for minerals. According to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report 2016, the Global Forest Resources Assessment reports that since 1990, on a gross basis, we have lost a total of 239 million hectares of natural forest!

This means that there is lesser forest cover for animals to call their home, and it’s not that surprising when you hear news of a leopard coming into a school on a Sunday. After all, we can’t expect them to know these man-made boundary walls.

Further, our roads are becoming a point for human-animal conflict. Roadkill — that is wildlife killed on the road by motor accidents — has become a major threat to conservation. A study conducted by Panthera showed that 23 leopards were killed in Karnataka between July 2009 and June 2014 because of road accidents.

In a research paper titled Roadkill Animals on National Highways of Karnataka, by Selvan et. al, the authors conducted a survey to understand how many animals were killed on National Highways NH212 and NH67, which pass through Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Karnataka in 2007. They found that 423 animals of 29 species were killed between January and June. Isn’t that awful?

According to the Wildlife Conservation Foundation (WCF), at least three large animals are killed in accidents on these highways. And these include tigers, elephants, leopards, deer, sloth bears, snakes and birds. The good news is that in 2010, the group, with the help of the Wildlife Trust of India and the High Court, was able to ban night traffic in Bandipur. A good thing because 65 per cent of wildlife roadkills until that time were being documented at night.

This is, of course, only Karnataka. But there are so many instances of leopards and other animals becoming victims of accidents — either road or rail — across the country. What can be done about this? Plenty. For instance, not allowing roads or rail networks to be built inside forests or corridors, which animals use to pass from one jungle to another. Many forest departments now have installed neon boards and speed breakers to slow those hurtling vehicles going at top speed in the night. Or like the WCF managed to do — restricting vehicular traffic at night.

The good folks at the Nature Conservation Foundation – India have come up with a fabulous strategy in Tamil Nadu. They have installed seven canopy bridges in the rainforests of the Valparai region — aerial bridges (high up above the ground) that connect tree canopies that were otherwise too far apart across the roads. And it’s already showing results — lion-tailed macaques can cross the road without having to look left, right, and left again, and they don’t have to get down from their trees and dodge passing traffic.

What else do you think can be done? We’d love to hear from you with your ideas. Write to us at comments@natureinfocus.in

Leopard in Gurugram: How The Media Made A Mess Of A Tragedy

https://www.newslaundry.com/2016/12/05/leopard-in-gurugram-how-the-media-made-a-mess-of-a-tragedy

Did you know leopards actually prefer to stay away from human settlements rather than prey on them? The recent killing of a leopard in Gurugram shows how damaging sensationalist reporting on the wildlife can be.

On November 25, horrific photographs and videos of a leopard in Mandawar village in Gurugram made headlines across India. Many, including The Times of India, showed a particularly disturbing image of the villagers dragging the leopard by its tail, its head bludgeoned to bloody pulp. Some blurred out the head. Others, such asIndia Today, chose to carry a video of people posing for photos with the dead leopard, and a disclaimer of “disturbing content, viewer’s discretion advised”.

There’s something almost obscene about the show of human triumph in those photographs and an unspoken reiteration of the idea that wildlife and humanity must have a relationship of animosity. Leopards, incidentally, are solitary animals and humans are actually not their traditional prey. So despite the fact that we call them “predators”, as far as we humans are concerned, leopards are not actually bloodthirsty. This is probably why many local legends in different parts of the country see leopards and tigers as protectors rather than predators. Yet, look at the press reports, the story of progress is one of clashes like this one, between man and animal – it’s a war, and humans won this battle.

Sensationalising human-animal conflict in the media serves no purpose, except to make matters worse. If we’re being shown these images for higher ratings or more views and shares, it is a poor excuse. The Ministry of Environment and Forests’ Guidelines for Human-Leopard Conflict Management 2011 edition clearly state, “Media should contribute to diffusing the tense situation surrounding conflict with objective reporting aimed at highlighting the measures to mitigate conflict. Reporting mainly aggressive encounters with leopards can erode local people’s tolerance and worsen the situation by forcing the Forest Department to unnecessarily trap the wild animal due to public pressure.”

Many headlines played a blame game – “Gurgaon villagers beat leopard to death: How the forest department failed to save the animal’s life”, “Leopard enters Gurugram village, attacks 8, beaten to death”. The Hindustan Times headline read, “Leopard killed: As villagers discuss tales of courage, fear of police action looms large” and then went on to say in the body copy, “In the two days since the incident, the event has been embellished with ‘snippets of valour’.” So was encountering the leopard really an act of courage or was it “embellished”? Your guess is as good as mine.

As writers, our lexicon is everything. Bandying about phrases like “leopard on loose” or “beastly attacks” alter perceptions, often dubbing the animal as dangerous and fearsome. “The media has to stop imagining that the mere sighting of a leopard is like a terrorist in the neighbourhood,” said wildlife conservationist Prerna Bindra, who is also a former member of the National Board for Wildlife. “It does not represent conflict, in all probability the cat was living in peace for years, before it was unfortunately spotted. The cat lived in peace, home sapiens couldn’t. What’s appalling is not just beating the creature to death, but posing-in-glee for pictures as though it were some kind of trophy.”

The Indian Express was one of the few outlets to offer restrained reporting, including this story by Jay Mazoomdaar, titled “Spotted a leopard? Back off, stay calm, let it slip away”. Mazoomdaar elaborated that “leopards traditionally live close to people and just because one is sighted does not mean the animal means harm.” As did The Wire, taking an in-depth look at policy decisions when it comes to human-wildlife conflict. “Leopards tend to live near people,” wrote Neha Sinha for the The Wire. “In modern times, on the other hand, they have vanished from more than 60 per cent of their historic range worldwide. Thus, of all man-animal conflicts, leopards have borne the worst brunt, and the story is no different in India.”

This is not the first instance of man-animal conflict that has been reported in the media. It will also not be the last, in fact climate change will possibly exacerbate it. As will policies such as the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change declaring certain wildlife species as vermin if they are “damaging human life or property”, and translocating leopards (which stresses them further) or projects that mow down forests to make way for roads and highways.

As India moves rapidly towards an economic growth that is bolstered by unchecked development paradigms that shrink forests, it also unravels the fragile bond that humans and wildlife share. What was once a relatively peaceful existence is now marred with violent conflict. In a story, Learning to live with leopards, ecologist Vidya Athreya who has done substantial research on the subject, said “…we are finding that we can share our space with leopards when we know how they behave and we understand how we should behave. In rural India, wildlife is a fact of life; by learning to live with it, we can minimise trouble.”

Efforts are being made to inculcate better understanding in the media. In 2015, the Wildlife Conservation Society India held collaborative workshops with the media on reporting human-wildlife interactions accurately and responsibly. There are numerous documents and publications available online about standard operating procedures as well as guidelines. That can propel nuanced journalism which takes into account multiple perspectives, facts, and relies on wildlife experts and scientists to report on incidents such as this.

Unfortunately, there’s an ingrained sense of fear towards the creatures of the wild that gets exploited in sensational reporting of the kind we saw in the Gurugram leopard case. But this fear mongering doesn’t actually help us come to an understanding of how we’re going to share space with wildlife. And as we bludgeon our way to progress, we’re going to have to figure out a better way to achieve an equilibrium.