GUWAHATI, June 9 - In a bid to engage with local communities living in fringe areas of forests and address the perennial irritant of friction between fringe dwellers and forest authorities, environmental protection organisation Aaranyak has launched a novel initiative that seeks to involve students and youths as stakeholders in conservation.
The innovative biodiversity conservation-oriented programme titled �Friends of Rhino� focuses on eliciting sustained cooperation and support from residents of fringe areas of protected wildlife and forest areas (national parks and wildlife sanctuaries) in the region.
A striking feature of the initiative is that it has enabled many young students to savour the thrills of a jeep safari inside a national park for the first time. Before the safari, the students are exposed to scientific deliberations on biodiversity conservation requirement by conservation leaders from Aaranyak during the �Friends of Rhino� programmes.
�Most of these young boys and girls who hail from economically backward families have not gone on a safari inside these wonderful and rich wildlife habitats though they reside in the proximity to these wildlife protection areas. Through their initiation into our natural heritage, we are trying to spot and groom future conservation leaders from among them,� Dr Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, secretary general of Aaranyak, said.
Two such programmes � one each at Kaziranga National Park and Orang National Park � have been conducted during last month. Under it, groups of students studying in Class IX and Class X are getting some much-needed exposure.
�One of the most valuable fallouts of successful protection and conservation of wildlife species is preservation of oxygen bank in the atmosphere and water for all of us on the planet,� Dr Talukdar said before the �Friends of Rhino� programme hosted at Orang National Park, emphasising on the importance for mankind to protect the green cover around them.
The students from the neighbourhood of Orang, which is also a Tiger Reserve, were taken out on a safari of the park and they were delighted to sight over 12 one-horned rhinos within a couple of hours.
Orang National Park DFO Ramesh Gogoi, while stressing the importance of community participation in conservation, told the youngsters that conservation of biodiversity and forest cover without the cooperation and participation of local communities was impossible, �as the forest department with its limited resources and manpower cannot always live up to this extremely challenging task.�
Dr Talukdar, a global rhino conservation specialist and also the Asia Coordinator of International Rhino Foundation (IRF), said that protection of an animal species was possible only through preservation of its habitat and ecology.
�Once we succeed in protecting the habitat of the species, the trees are saved to keep supplying oxygen for our survival and conserving water for us,� he said, adding a human being needs oxygen equivalent to three cylinders full of oxygen every day, which one gets free from nature.
The market value of an oxygen cylinder ranges from Rs 6,000-Rs 7,000 as on date.
Dr Talukdar urged the group of about 30 schoolchildren to carry the message of conservation of the Indian one-horned rhino in Orang National Park to their friends and families.
The 78-square kilometre Orang has 115 one-horned rhinos besides a healthy population of tigers, elephants, deer, and avifauna.