With the collaborative support of the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and the Beneficia Foundation, we are trying to develop a major intervention program through resource assessment and eco-friendly alternative livelihood options for different socio-economic groups to reduce the anthropogenic pressures on the river ecosystem.
During the first phase of the program, we surveyed a 100 km stretch river (up from the downstream confluence of the Chambal-Yamuna Rivers) to quantify pressures and identify possible solutions. This area is highly sensitive in terms of conservation management as the turtles may leave the sanctuary and enter unprotected areas with concentrated commercial fishing. We collected socio-economic information and conducted resource appraisal through household surveys, direct observations, and secondary sources of information (mostly government pamphlets) to design the rehabilitation program. We classified different villages according to their needs, community structure, education and resource availability. The classification will help us to develop wide-ranging programs according to their individual and varying needs.
A temporary help center has been opened for fishing and other riparian communities in the town of Chakarnagar (close to the sanctuary‚Äôs buffer zone) in order to inform residents of various government welfare programs. The primary aim of this center is to bridge the gap between rural villagers and state and federal government. We hope to facilitate the meetings of various representatives from government departments like dairy, agriculture, cattle farming, soil reclamation, forestry, veterinary, primary health care, primary education, etc) with the riparian community. This later can be supported with our alternative livelihood project. We are also planning to initiate a weekly boat clinic in stretches close to Yamuna-Chambal confluence to provide easy primary medical facilities to the inhabitants of the sanctuary and garner community support to our conservation projects.
Moreover, a pilot rehabilitation program for ex-turtle poachers is being developed. We have been experimenting with enlisting their services in various turtle conservation projects. Although there have been positive results during our field seasons, this option is very limited and can engage them only for a few months in a year. Ten ex-poachers from different regions have been selected, especially the Terai, Ganges River, and Chambal River, and we are working with them to develop eco-friendly livelihood options.
We launched a wide-ranging education programs for different target groups especially in the ‚Äúproblem‚Äù villages (villages that have in the past clashed with authorities within the National Chambal Sanctuary) and critical conservation stretches for aquatic river fauna in Chambal River. We are currently targeting the local villagers and primary school children. We additionally conducted ‚ÄúSanrakchan Panchyat‚Äù (Conservation Village Meetings) in different villages of lower Chambal. The aim of this program is to increase awareness regarding the sanctuary‚Äôs flora and fauna. At these meetings, we discussed various conservation challenges like poaching, illegal fishing, sand mining, and agriculture on the riverbank and more importantly villagers‚Äô views regarding the impact of protected area. It is our hope that these meetings will create a conservation network of local village chiefs and stakeholders, which in turn will increase the effectiveness of our conservation program. We have been recording the views (and traditional knowledge) of the villagers, which may be used in the formulation of effective management plan of the sanctuary. In the meetings, we try to revitalize the local and religious sentiments for the river and biodiversity through cultural programs and traditional songs.
We have been conducting the education programs for various primary school children during the weekends and on important days of Environmental Calendar like National Wildlife Week, World Wetland Day, Forestry Day, International Biodiversity Day, World Turtle Day, and World Environment Day etc at GTRC. Soon we will expand our child and adult education programs at the Garhaita Turtle Center by renovating and expanding its education facility (thanks largely to funding from Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and the Beneficia Foundation). Programs for children have included plays (on various issues of the sanctuary), hands-on demonstrations, painting competitions, lectures, rallies, and interactive sessions. At present, over 500 children are visiting our center each month.
We are conducting education outreach programs in the primary schools. Outreach programs are being conducted for approximately 200 schools situated along the 180 km stretch of the lower Chambal in the National Chambal Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh. Our target audience is children between 5 and 15 years of age. We have also developed scales (quiz competitions conducted during a follow up program for same class/age group) to measure the effectiveness of these education efforts. This year we conducted over fifty such programs inside the sanctuary.
We have started a mobile education unit on camel cart to go village to village and spread the awareness regarding the biodiversity of the sanctuary. The cultural team on the cart plays the traditional local songs; many villagers in the area worship the Chambal River as deity. We display all the traditional conservation slogans on the cart. This education unit is becoming more popular each day among the villagers. We hope to add more colored displays and educational puppet shows to this unit to attract more villagers and spread our conservation message effectively.
We are in process of developing a children‚Äôs coloring book on India‚Äôs turtles with the generous support from the Serenity Foundation. This multilingual book will contain information regarding the various endangered turtle species and their habitats in the India.
- Brian Horne and Shailendra Singh