As part of the Western Ghats Development Programme, eco-awareness camps in schools were conducted by us in association with the Theni Forest Department. The camps were presided by the Assistant Conservator of Forests, Shri T. Muthukumar. It was attended by the students of Class VIII, IX and X along with their respective faculty members. The camps were meant to be an introduction to the students into wildlife and habitat and sensitize them to various issues threatening our rich and natural resources. As with our other  camps, this involved a lot of interaction among the students as well.

 

In each camp, the students were taught the varied types of forests found in the Western Ghats. This was followed by the introduction of the national animal, bird, flower and tree of India and then the State animal, bird, flower and tree of Tamil Nadu. Pictures of the various kinds of carnivores in the Western Ghats and their prey were displayed. Their choice of habitat and their habits were detailed. The students were also told about the importance of montane sholas and grasslands and about how these forests provide water for the existence of all life below.

 

Some of the myths about medicinal properties from animal parts were dispelled. Endemic mammals of the western ghats like Nilgiri tahr, lion-tailed macaque, Nilgiri langur, slender loris, grizzled giant squirrel, etc., were highlighted. The reasons as to why the bonnet macaques had become such a serious problem in tourist places were put forth to the students for them to understand the impact of tourism and human indifference towards wild animals.

The next session was devoted to birds. The rare and endemic birds of the Western Ghats were discussed in detail viz., the great pied hornbill, Malabar  grey hornbill, emerald dove, Malabar whistling thrush, grey francolin, etc. The absence or low presence of house sparrows and the reasons behind the same were explained to them. Various wetland birds like the Spot-billed pelican, darter, cormorants, sand pipers and the threat of poaching were displayed and the students were urged to keep a watch on wetlands in their surroundings.

 

Insects, mainly butterflies and moths were discussed along with their habits. The mud-puddling behaviour of butterflies, the difference between moths and butterflies, the importance of insects as pollinators and the forests as a storage bank of life were stressed upon.

Threats to forests in the form of human habitation, encroachments, plantations and estates, forest fires, poaching, roads, dams and reservoirs were individually debated upon.

The students were urged to be more environment-friendly and reduce the usage of plastics, avoid dumping garbage in forest roads, unnecessary power and water consumption. On a pro-active basis, the students were encouraged to start eco-clubs in schools and plant trees around their campus.

Screening of the short documentary, “Save our Sholas” (narrated in Tamil) by renowned wildlife filmmaker, Shri. Shekhar Dattatri marked the end of the day's session.

Two students from each school were rewarded with a gift for the interest shown and also the awareness that they carried during the interaction.

The camps were a great success with the students and the faculty as well. They asked us to help them by providing them with native tree saplings, which the forest department graciously agreed to. More such initiatives in bringing students closer to nature, by means of such awareness camps, nature-trekking, bird watching etc., will go a long way in inculcating a feeling of being together with nature and the importance of preserving habitat.

Schools covered under the programme -

Nagamani Ammal Memorial Matric. Hr. Sec. School, Cumbum.

Anns Matriculation School, Cumbum.

Forest Training College, Vaigai Dam, Theni.  (Camp held at Cumbum)

Government Kallar Hr. Sec. School, Vellaiammalpuram, Chinnamanur.