MUMBAI, JUNE 19,
A majestic tiger in a waterhole in Sindhudurg; two leopards with three cubs in Raigad; a difficult-to-spot porcupine in Ratnagiri: these aren’t the portfolio of a professional wildlife photographer. They’re just a few of the 200-odd pictures shot on camera traps set up by school children from rural Maharashtra as part of the unique E-mammal Citizen Science Project.The project, aimed at grass-roots conservation through collection of scientific information by children, is implemented by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), in collaboration with Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra (SNM). It started in 2105, with three schools in the State joining their contemporaries in Mexico and the U.S. In its second phase in 2017, the project included 2,000 children in Class VIII and IX in 20 schools in Palghar, Thane, Raigad, Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg, Kolhapur and Satara districts. Each school was given three camera traps — they have motion detectors which trigger the shutter — a laptop, a projector, an Internet connection and old-school binoculars to cover nearby areas not protected under the Forest Department. Between them, they collected more than a lakh images. The photos from the second phase will be shown in a first-of-its-kind exhibition starting next week in Chiplun.
The children of Mangeli village, Sindhudurg, snapped a tiger. Even forest officials there would have spotted a tiger only once or twice, says SNM president Bhau Katdare. “It is a big deal that the children have also spotted the big cat.” The Mangeli kids also got photos of the rare and endangered pangolin. In a Raigad school, children got photos of leopards a few metres away from their school, on the same path villagers walk by day. Other captures include the Small Indian Civet, wild boar, Indian bison, mongooses and wild dogs.
For Jayesh Raut, 14, a peacock was the highlight. “I had never seen a peacock before,” he said. The Class VIII student of New English High School, Talsure village, Dapoli, says the memory cards in the cameras fill up in about a month. “We then go in groups and change the card and study the photos that we have till then. When we don’t spot many animals, we change the location.” Jayesh is now so interested in wildlife and cameras that he is considering a career in the field.
Prasad Gond, SNM’s field coordinator for the project, says the children have not only grown curious about wildlife but also technology; they have been operating the equipment on their own after initial training. Rahul Khot, co-ordinator of E-mammals, and BNHS’s assistant director, Natural History Collections, says, “Every picture they see carries a sense of surprise and lot of knowledge for them. Through the project, the children have been exposed to the wildlife habitats, the various sources of disturbance, and pressure due to the close proximity of human population. Now they educate their parents and others about perils of hunting, about the mannerisms of mammals.”