Are you passionate about wildlife? Are you often in awe of colossal mammals, drab coloured birds, loud amphibians and outlandish insects? And how often have you also felt helpless that you do not know what you can do to help with the conservation of species. Well, here are 10 pointers for us urbanites on how we can do our small part in conservation.
1. Donate your time, volunteer with wildlife research and conservation organizations
There are many research organizations, NGOs and trusts who work in the field of wildlife conservation and research. Often, they are in on the lookout for enthusiastic individuals who could visit and invest their time and energy in their on-going projects. If you are passionate about the cause and don’t care about the money, then put aside a week (working professional) to a month or more (if you are student) for volunteering. Don’t let your summers go to waste next year.
2. Contribute to citizen science projects
A number of citizen science projects have been launched in the recent past, namely, India Biodiversity Portal, NCBS’s MigrantWatch, SeasonWatch, Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education’s Mapping Trees , Behaviour Watch@Home, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird, Great Backyard Bird Count, and Nature Forever Society’s Common Bird Monitoring of India Citizen Sparrow. These projects count on the contributions made by responsible citizens who are keen on providing inputs to wildlife studies. Next time, you go bird watching, make sure you take notes on bird behaviour, habitat, and minute observations, make a checklist of sightings, and contribute to projects seeking such information.
3. Participate in local and national issues pertaining to wildlife conservation
Actively take part in public discourses promoting biodiversity conservation. Keep abreast with the latest happenings and activities of National Green Tribunal, National Biodiversity Authority, Ministry of Environment and Forests, and your local Municipal Corporation. Protest, file petitions, and speak out against acts of blatant misuse of power that gravely affect the environment. At the local level, you must have heard about citizen groups who have managed to stall projects that were environmentally destructive. One such example is that of the Save Aarey Milk Colony group, who forced the government to rethink their decision to cut down over 2000+ trees to make place for a metro car shed (though this issue is still pending). From organizing rallies, tree-walks, exhibitions, hug-a-tree initiative, the group filed a petition against the construction of metro shed, mapped trees in the area, and sought legal help to stop the cutting of trees. Strive to become an active citizen!
4. Travel sustainably
A lot of youngsters today love traveling; with quite a few interested in visiting national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. But don’t limit your travel to just “seeing nature and wildlife”. Make your trip as sustainable as possible. For example, always carry your trash with you when you travel, dispose it responsibly; opt for home-stays with locals; go for public transport and carpooling, respect local customs and lifestyles; be sensitive to privacy issues when photographing people; do not indulge in unethical practices during photography of wildlife and people. Drive cautiously on highways that pass through forests (to avoid road kills), drive on designated paths in protected areas, and avoid off-roading in sensitive eco-systems, as you may damage micro-habitats. And you can always go that extra mile and arrange for clean-up drives during treks and the likes.
5. Be responsible when you buy things
Often we may not be aware that the products we buy come from wildlife. So next time when you visit an exotic location, and shop for local souvenirs, make sure that they are completely wildlife free (feathers and beaks of birds, ivory and coral jewellery/ accessories, insect key chains, fur-products).
6.Donate money, for causes you believe in
We may not all have the time and physical prerequisites to go and volunteer on field, but we may have the money. Many organizations who work in the space of wildlife conservation face severe financial crunches. Pick one organization who you know to be genuine and work for a cause you are passionate about and set aside a small amount of money annually for the organization. Your money can help in so many ways – it can fund research projects of students who work in this field, fund small-scale projects at the grassroots, employ a local person, plantation drives, restoration of damaged habitats, create awareness and so many more.
7. Come together to build urban biodiversity hots-pots
Recently, a lot of people have tried to create urban biodiversity hot-spots. These serve as mini habitats for a variety of flora and fauna. It could be a small kitchen garden in your balcony (or a big one), or even creating a butterfly garden in your backyard. You could also help in reviving that old park or garden in your locality. Plant some indigenous trees there, make a small frog-pool, and construct a simple bird bath. You will be enamoured by the wildlife that visits your backyard! Cities lack of green spaces, and so by creating a small oasis in the concrete jungle, you can provide the much needed breathing space for urban wildlife
8. Direct focus on the “conservation aspect” of wildlife photography
For all those who love to sport their huge cameras and take pictures of nature and wildlife, attempt to go “beyond the pretty picture”. Focus more on the “conservation aspect” of wildlife photography. You do not need expensive and fancy equipment to do this. Even your 2.0 MP cell phone camera can do the trick. Try to weave the story you wish to communicate using the picture you clicked. To know more on conservation photography, take a look at this extremely useful resource.
9. Avoid using excessive amounts of chemical pesticides & insect repellents in your house.
On one hand, we may rally for “Save the Tiger” and “Save the Elephant” initiatives, but on the other hand, we would be killing small insects and bugs, butterfly and moth caterpillars, ants and spiders in our own houses/ backyards by using excessive chemical pesticides. As much as possible, opt for natural insect repellents and avoid killing the bugs. They all constitute as urban wildlife and play an important ecological role in the urban ecosystem.
10. Share your enthusiasm for wildlife
If you are passionate about wildlife and nature, then be vocal about it. Share your stories, pictures and experiences with your friends and family, and spread the love. It can be in the form of cartoons, blogs and even popular articles and talks. Often, we don’t realize that we have been in love with nature and wildlife all our life and all we needed was that nudge from someone. So go on, and be that nudge for someone!
The above piece is a mildly edited version of my article titled “Ten meaningful ways in which an urbanite can contribute to wildlife conservation” that originally appeared in an online platform called The Alternative. [Link no longer active]
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My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.