Sharmila Deo (Co-ordinator), Sujatha Padmanabhan (Project Advisor), Neema Pathak, Pradeep Chavan from Kalpavriksh, Purnima Phadke, Pune, Chandrakant Langhi, Bheemashankar
Bhimashankar Wild Life Sanctuary (BWLS) is located in the Ambegaon and Khed talukas of Pune district in Maharashtra. This evergreen forest in the Sahyadri mountain range was given protection by the State in 1984, mainly for the conservation of the Indian Giant Squirrel and its unique habitat. The area of the sanctuary extends over 130 sq. kms., which includes 9 tribal villages. The area has been preserved as a cluster of sacred groves for generations, and hence, has been able to retain its immense bio-diversity.
The famous Shri Kshetra Bhimashankar temple, considered as very sacred, being one of the 12 Jyotirlingas, is situated in the midst of BWLS. The area is frequented by lakhs of devotees and tourists every year. Bhimashankar is also the source of one of the major rivers of south India, Bhima, which is a tributary of the Krishna.
The communities living within the sanctuary mainly belong to the Mahadeo Koli tribe.
Need for the programme:
Bhimashankar is a region that is witnessing rapid changes due to various internal and external influences. It has been observed that traditional knowledge, that was passed down from one generation to another is on the decline, and preservation of this knowledge is of utmost importance in order to understand the importance of, and to conserve, the forests.
Among the local communities the children are most affected and influenced by the rapid social, economic and cultural changes in the area. The current education system has not been able to address the complex situation that these children are in, living in the forest areas but faced with new aspirations. Local contexts and situations are not part of school curricula. Considering that these children are the future custodians of such an important Protected Area (PA), it is important to enable the children to understand their rich natural and cultural heritage.
In the above context a strong need was felt for a site-specific education campaign for the school children and teachers, and we were approached by the Forest Department to carry out a sustained intervention in the schools.
- Instill in the village school children the knowledge and appreciation of their rich natural biodiversity.
- Encourage children to understand the importance of harmonious co-existence between humans and wildlife.
- Spread awareness on the issues of wildlife and the sanctuary, and discuss possible solutions.
- Plan steps for concrete action towards conservation with community participation
The environment education programme is being implemented at the Terungun and Tokawade Ashram schools in Bhimashankar area through workshops conducted by Kalpavriksh members and specially appointed environment educators for past two years. These are government residential schools for tribal children.
They were identified through our collaborator, Maharashtra Arogya Mandal (MAM).
Knowledge base of the children and educators on issues pertaining to the conservation of BWLS and its biodiversity is being strengthened by imparting information in various material forms on different aspects of the area. Activities at primary and upper school levels are being suggested for educators to conduct. The activities are specific to the local context, and appropriate educational aids are being developed. The activities are child centered, and include games, art and craft, theatre, etc. As far as possible, curricular links are drawn. Children are being encouraged to share traditional knowledge from their elders by facilitating interactions between these two groups.
The programme attempts to involve the local educated youth by imparting training as environment educators, a method which could ensure continuity of the objectives of the programme beyond the project phase. The training sessions are conducted in Pune as well as in Bhimashankar.
Development of Material:
An information kit consisting of various educational aids e.g posters, cards, booklets, games etc containing the various aspects of Bhimashankar sanctuary is being developed for students to be used during workshops. The material production will be in the local language as that is the medium being used in schools in the area.
The programme attempts to introduce the students to various aspects of Bhimashankar area. The material produced would attempt to cover the following categories.
- Geography and Biodiversity: Topography, water sources, forest types, flora and fauna
- Cultural importance: History, Pilgrimage site, Jyotirlinga, Religion and Nature conservation
- Protected Area status: Bhimashankar as a Wildlife Sanctuary, impacts due to declaration, management of the sanctuary
- Social aspects: Indigenous tribes, livelihood activities (agriculture, tourism, NTFP, medicinal plants etc) with relation with forests
- Threats and conservation: Identify threats and plan initiatives to support conservation
The programme has been supported by Concern India and Ruffords Small Grants Fund since the beginning. There have also been donations from individuals wanting to support the work.