Wildlife & Biodiversity

‘We inform locals about the wildlife in their backyard’

Sanjay Gubbi, who recently set up a nature information centre in Karnataka, says this it’s the first such centre to disseminate information in a vernacular language

By Megha Prakash
Published: Monday 16 July 2018

Sanjay GubbiSanjay Gubbi, the 2017 Whitely Award winner, talks to Down To Earth about the Holematthi Nature Information Centre in Ellemala village in Karnataka’s Chamrajanagar district, set up under his leadership. The centre was inaugurated on July 6. Here are some excerpts from the interview:

Can you please tell us about the Holematthi Nature Information Centre?

It’s all based on information from a local area. It highlights plants, animals, habitats, history that any local person can relate to. An interesting thing about this centre is that all the information disseminated is in Kannada, and not English. We have made some guides available, which are in English of course, but this is perhaps the first centre which is in a vernacular language. 

The centre is funded by the German government, German Development Bank (KfW) and IUCN. It is under the Integrated Tiger Habitat Conservation Programme. Tiger is just a symbol, but in all, we are saving the habitat. 

What kind of information is made available at the centre?

We have written about insect pollination and, how it can help the farmers. It gives the local farmers a chance to explore information which is not as readily available to him. We want some familiarity to the place too, so we have also showcased information on locally available edible plant species, which the villagers can relate to. There are some games, puzzles, books that the local children can play and read and relate to.

Why is this Centre housed near a protected area and not in a touristy place?

We are more interested in who comes in rather than how many do. A lot of times you develop this interpretation for an information centre from a tourist’s perspective, by analysing locations that have tourist footfall. But we thought that the cost of wildlife conservation is actually borne by the communities living around the protected areas and not tourists. For example, it is important that the knowledge about elephants and wild pigs raiding their crops at night or leopards preying on livestock is made available to the local community as the wildlife is in their backyard.

We know that the cost of wildlife conservation is borne by local communities and they hardly ever get access to the information for which they make sacrifices. With that thought in mind, we decided to house the information centre close to a protected area and at the edge of a protected area. Therefore, the Holematthi Nature Information Centre is on the boundaries of MM Hills and Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuaries, and close to BRT Tiger Reserve, and it is in a village where the local community people—local school and college students, and local elected representatives, gram panchayat members or the taluk panchayat members, can get an opportunity to come and see what is there in their backyard.

Our effort is to strengthen partnerships between local communities and conservation. For example, during the inaugural ceremony, there were enthralled school kids owing to the information and lot of voluntary participation was observed from the villagers and the local governing bodies. A crowd of 500 people turned up. Since then there has been a continous flow of school children and local people.

What makes the centre unique?

The centre is perhaps the first of its kind in the country as nature information has been taken to a place where it is really required. Though it is being pursued under the Integrated Tiger Habitat Conservation Programme, the centre is not placed around tigers. It is about conserving the tiger habitat. The centre’s name was chosen to be Holematthi, Kannada name for Terminilia arjuna tree, which grows along rivers and streams, hence a symbol of water. So, the information centre represents this symbol of water, people, forests and tigers.

Artists from five states (Karnataka, Punjab, Goa, Gujarat and Maharashtra) have worked to develop this center and all curated by the young and talented nature artist Sangeetha Kadur.

What kinds of activities are being planned here?

The centre will of course encourage school children to make visits. Soon after the inauguration, impressed with the outlay of the centre, MP R Dhruvnarayan, in a review meeting, asked the education department to make it mandatory for ashrama schools, residential schools run by the government for tribal kids and Morarji schools to visit the centre.

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