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Reading About Human-Animal Conflict

This year happens to be the 50th anniversary of Project Tiger in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been to Bandipur Tiger Reserve recently to commemorate the occasion. The event brought to light the need for tiger population and wildlife in general. Children at the Young Readers' Club and Young Writers' Club read and talked about matters of forest conservation and enabling wild life to thrive.


The Young Readers' Club (8-11 age group) were introduced to the concept of human animal conflict through an amazing book, Bumoni's Banana Trees written by Mita Bordoloi and illustrated by Tariq Aziz. The book shows Bumoni a little girl who lives near the Kaziranga National Park. Her family has a banana plantation in their backyard. The book brings to light the various uses different parts of the banana tree has and how dependent the family is on banana trees. That peace gets disturbed when a herd of elephants from the national park find their way across the river every night to eat bananas and the banana trees. The crux of the book is to make children think about why these elephants do that and what can be done to keep harmony.


Ideas from the young readers varied from building fences, blocking the river path, informing the forest department officials/mahouts to making food available for the elephants in the forest reserve. The lack of clarity and awareness about difference between a zoo and a forest reserve came to light. The fact that leaving animals live in the wild as nature intended instead of keeping them captive seemed less known among the children. Why have wild life? Aren't they a source of danger? were some questions that surfaced. The children poured in thoughts and what they had learnt in school and elsewhere. Their discussions went in the lines of food chain and the need for every species to contribute in their own to maintain a natural balance. Some looked at it like another textbook chapter while others looked at it as a pertinent issue that concerns them. The divide led to several perspectives and attempts to convince the other side.


How real is the story?

Every book is born out of ideas that the author gets from somewhere. How did this book Bumoni's Banana Trees come about? Is it based on real life? In the spirit of enquiry we went to read an interview with the author, Mita Bordolai and the illustrator, Tariq Aziz. The young readers discovered that the author had witnessed human animal conflict near Kaziranga National Park as a teenager and had pondered about how the problem can be solved. The illustrator had grown up with similar experiences of hearing stories about this conflict from his mother. His father used to work for the forest department and they were savvy about this problem. Together they made a perfect team to bring forth a problem that impacts everyone of us in a somewhat indirect way. We don't pause to think about it as we don't know it happens or just like to believe that it is very far away and does not impact us. Truth is that we need to coexist with other species to maintain ecological balance. (Read more about how this book came into being here.)


On a lighter note, a reader observed that the author and illustrator had all the fun and excitement of going through something so real and possible scary. While that is the case with them, for us it is a learning experience that makes us imagine what it must have been like for them.


The Writers' Club comprising of teens had a more advanced take on the matter

Grades 9 and 10 touch upon forest conservation and consequently on wild life conservation as a part of Geography syllabus. As a result they were more aware about the need. However, not being a witness to human animal conflict on a daily basis made the matter confined to their textbooks alone. Unfortunately, the association was one of ennui and exam prep rather than an issue that could be discussed with rigour.


The mood began to change when they read facts such as 75% of the world's tiger population being in India and how the west has wild life captive. For being developed countries and still holding wild life captive was an eye opener to many. Discussions moved on to how water levels, greenery, wild life feasting endlessly on vegetation could disturb water levels, water retention etc, and the need for predator populations made the problem far more real than a simple chapter in a textbook to be studied. The reducing forest cover was dwelled upon and reasons traced. The general consensus at the end of the discussion turned out to be "to live and let live."


As a species human beings have had an upper hand always but over centuries lessons have been learnt. Urbanisation has made all of us live in our own bubbles and mindlessly do a lot of things without worrying about the impact on nature. We may not be able to do much in a direct manner but being aware of what is happening, being conscious of the impact in our decisions is critical- a lesson that the upcoming generations must learn.


 

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Both weekday and weekend batches are available at the Young Readers' Club. While this program is for the 8-12 age group, the Young Writers' Club program for the 13-15 age group offers a weekly platform to read and discuss curated articles from the news, observe writing approaches and practise one's writing skills.

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