From investment banking to wildlife conservation – Meet Vidya Venkatesh

They referred to as her ” Bachchon Ko Gumane Wali Madam, ” within the jungles of Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh. They didn’t even know her identify. However for Vidya Venkatesh, this was simply what she had wished. It was the start of her tryst with wildlife and her dream of changing into a wildlife conservationist after a decade of working as an funding banker with a number of company and monetary establishments in Mumbai.  “It began with a WWF camp that I attended with my sister, Priya and since then I turned passionately considering wildlife. I used to work night time shifts and liked it. I might head residence from work within the wee hours of the morning and on my manner, I might cease at a nationwide park in Mumbai, attend a nature path, and even conduct one. Nevertheless, I wished to offer again one thing extra to wildlife than simply being an fanatic, ” she instructed me on the telephone as we spoke about her journey from the company world to a wildlife conservationist and her dream of engaged on wildlife conservation tasks in India.

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Vidya had combed nearly each jungle in India. ” Yearly I used to trek within the mountains and spend lots of time within the forests. However I spotted that I used to be solely taking a look at it from the eyes of a vacationer. I wished to contribute extra to the effectively being of the forest and perceive points like human-animal conflicts higher,” she added, as she wished to speculate her time in wildlife conservation efforts in India.

Vidya discovered her help in her boss, who agreed to offer her a three-month sabbatical to offer her an opportunity to pursue her goals. “I used to be grateful. My boss instructed me that my job would stay till I confirmed her an appointment letter from one other firm. And I lastly received one from Sanctuary Asia, the place I managed the Children for Tigers challenge for them, ” defined Vidya. That was the start of her foray into wildlife. Nevertheless, a yr later, she realized that this was not her calling. ” It was a college challenge, however I needed to coordinate from my workplace in Mumbai. I nonetheless wished to go to the forests and be a wildlife conservationist.  I spotted that this was not the explanation I had give up my company life,” she stated. After which the chance at Final Wilderness Basis emerged out of the blue. Based by stockbroker and wildlife photographer Nikhil Nagle in Mumbai, Vidya joined them as director. “That is precisely what I used to be on the lookout for. It gave me a chance to journey, particularly to forests and work on conservation tasks,” she added as she began getting engaged on wildlife conservation tasks in India, particularly within the wildlife sanctuaries of Madhya Pradesh.

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The way it all started – Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve

And that’s the way it all started. One of many first wildlife conservation tasks in India took them to Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve which had its share of human-animal conflicts. Vidya narrated, “The sector director wished us to contain the villagers and create consciousness and it was his thought to do an outreach programme involving the children. So we began engaged on the programme. ” Vidya and her colleague Bhavana created the Village Children Consciousness Programme which reached out to over 5000 youngsters dwelling in 96 villages within the buffer areas round Bandhavgarh Nationwide Park. “We reached out to a cluster of three to 4 villages at a time and would then take the children into the forest for a day and create consciousness. However it was once lots of enjoyable as there could be video games and lots of interactive periods and displays as effectively. ” The programme would run nearly 4 occasions in a yr and each Vidya and her colleague together with the volunteers would reside within the villages for ten days at a time. The villagers would even cook dinner their meals and generally they might have a whole feast, whipped up for over 80 folks, together with children, volunteers and their supporting workers. “We might generally rent the villagers who used to cook dinner for conventional festivals after which lease out a neighborhood corridor in a college. It used to really feel like a marriage that lasted for ten days, ” laughed Vidya.

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Dwelling within the villages

“We had been an all-women crew, together with the volunteers and we’ve stayed in all places from halls inside faculties to somebody’s home and even inside “chowkies” of forest guards. Many occasions, we’ve stayed in a college after which would use the bathrooms hooked up to the “chowkies” utilized by the forest guards, as these within the faculties weren’t practical. We might, the truth is, select the village primarily based on the place we might get an honest lavatory, however we used to have lots of enjoyable,” Vidya narrated. The women turned a family identify within the villages and had been welcomed in all places. And that’s how she earned the nickname – “Bachchon Ko Gumane Wali Madam” or the woman who takes the children for a jaunt into the forest. “We lived with the villagers, had chai with them of their houses, ate with them and would chit chat with them about their on a regular basis life.” The villagers had accepted them as certainly one of their very own.

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Panna and Pardhis

Because the programme in Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve turned successful, Final Wilderness Basis was beckoned by the Area Director in Panna and it led them to the subsequent wildlife conservation tasks in India. This was the time when the tiger relocation programme had simply began and tourism had nearly come to a standstill with hardly any tigers within the nationwide park. The crew was requested to search out methods to create consciousness and interact with the neighborhood right here – the Pardhis, who had lived initially contained in the forest and had been additionally believed to have hunted tigers down within the nationwide park. Vidya and her crew learnt that there had been some quantity of labor initiated by the Forest Division and the Academic Division together with the WWF. The Pardhis had already been moved from the core space of the forest to the villages close by and the problem was to lure them away from searching, particularly the wild cats. Whereas among the adults had been employed in a factory-supported by Forest Division, the youngsters got primary training and a few hostels had began for the children. However as WWF slowly moved away from the challenge, the initiative to work with the youngsters was given to Final Wilderness Basis.wildlife conservationist

Who’re the Pardhis ?

Vidya took a small detour from her journey to inform me the story of the Pardhis. They had been believed to be Rajputs who had been compelled to depart their homeland centuries in the past and reside within the forests. In response to the story, two kings had been at conflict and the Pardhis supported the king who misplaced the conflict and therefore they needed to flee. As they escaped, they hid within the forests and ultimately began making it their residence. Whereas they learnt to coexist with animals, in addition they picked up survival abilities and have become adept hunters. Throughout the colonial period, they had been most wanted by the British, who employed them throughout their searching expeditions. They had been nicknamed “Cheetah Paridhis” as that they had apparently educated cheetahs to kill different wild cats. ”

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Be it the Rajas or the British, Pardhis had been at all times in demand and searching was all that they knew. The British, nevertheless, had named them as one of many “prison tribes” which was denotified after Independence. “Nevertheless the stigma nonetheless stays. As searching is now unlawful, rehabilitating them is a problem however individuals are nonetheless cautious of hiring them,” stated Vidya, including, ” Nevertheless they’ve modified quite a bit right now. Poaching and searching, at the very least in Panna and round have been stopped by them.”

 

The Pardhis reside in clusters in lots of components of the nation right now however they’re concentrated primarily in Madhya Pradesh amongst different states. There could also be rather less than a lakh of Pardhis within the nation right now and in Panna alone, there could be round 1000 folks dwelling in numerous clusters. Final Wilderness Basis began working with 40-50 households in and round Panna and with about 300 children. There have been two hostels- one for boys and one other for ladies and the problem was in educating them. ” They had been tiny, completely mini Mowglis, who had been introduced straight from the jungle and put in a hostel. That they had neither had a correct bathtub nor had combed their hair. And so they had no clue what a college was, ” defined Vidya. The youngsters needed to be educated in a Residential Bridge College, which gauged which “class’ they might then research.

Vidya’s admitted to me that she was extraordinarily fascinated by the Pardhis. “Every part about them is so attention-grabbing – be it their distinctive names or their traditions and beliefs,” she stated. That they had such distinctive names like Bisleri or Century. “Every identify is exclusive, nevertheless, a few of them are actually slowly altering this custom. One in every of them, referred to as Inchuri now desires her daughter to be referred to as Divya,” she stated.

Their traditions are equally fascinating. Vidya instructed me that they pray to a Goddess that they name Devi. “One in every of their beliefs is {that a} married girl mustn’t go to the roof of their houses – it’s maybe a symbolic gesture. Nobody needs to be greater than the Devi,” added Vidya. Vidya additionally believed that these highly effective beliefs might assist in conservation and in creating consciousness. “I’m not saying that we should promote blind beliefs however the energy of religion is immense. When the Pardhis had been shifted from the forests, they took an oath in entrance of their Devi temple that they might not kill a tiger once more. And so they have until the day, saved their promise, ” she stated.

Stroll within the Wilderness with the Pardhis

Final Wilderness Basis didn’t simply work on educating the Pardhis, however on additionally coaching them as naturalists and guides. And that’s how the award-winning, “Stroll within the Wilderness with Pardhis began. It began in collaboration with Taj Safaris who had educated the Pardhis on smooth abilities, visitor administration and primary communication and the advert exercise started initially with the company who had stayed at The Taj. Finally, it turned accessible for all of the company who travelled to the area, together with heritage websites like Khajuraho. The stroll was primarily like a wildlife safari on foot, led by the Pardhis. The company might go for a morning or a night stroll and there have been two choices – a simple hike of four km and one other of eight km.”

“Panna is just lovely and there are a few gorges on the way in which. After the monsoons, the panorama is completely heavenly with lush greenery. It’s wealthy in biodiversity. It’s the hang-out of leopards, sloth bears, porcupines and pangolins. One group had even seen a leopard chasing a sambar,” described Vidya. The stroll led by the Pardhis into the forest would additionally result in breakfast or lunch or dinner as opted by the company. The villagers would whip a meal for them and the company might go for a half-day and full-day package deal as effectively. Final Wilderness Basis would additionally help to find accommodations in Madhya Pradesh and different logistical necessities on request. ” That is simply one of many many initiatives to offer the Pardhis a chance to earn a livelihood. Nevertheless, as a result of lockdown, we are actually taking a look at different means like patrolling the forest and different actions that may maintain them, ” added Vidya

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Final Wilderness Basis has additionally began tapping into the inventive abilities of the Pardhis as effectively.”  We had been amazed by their craftsmanship, They might carve lovely whistles and knives after which they wore these pretty items of jewelry, largely beads that appeared like areca seeds. And so they created pretty patterns on them like pugmarks of varied animals,” stated Vidya. The humanities and crafts turned souvenirs that company might ultimately purchase and take residence with them, a chunk of Pardhi tradition.

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Kanha and the Badigas

The subsequent challenge was at Kanha the place they began engaged on the Nature Schooling Programme with college youngsters the place 25-30 youngsters from the villages could be taken at any given level of time into the forests. The programme focused all the youngsters within the 146 villages within the buffer zone and would run within the winters between October and March yearly.

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The challenge in Kanha additionally introduced them into contact with the Baigas, one of many ethnic teams who Vidya describes as ” probably the most weak tribes with primitive habits and beliefs .” Vidya added that they’ve a deep and conventional data of forests, primarily within the facet of therapeutic and medicinal crops and herbs.

They’ve a really wealthy tradition, be it performing arts just like the Baiga dance or the standard jewelry that they create. Final Wilderness Basis has initiated a Baiga livelihood Undertaking for these dwelling within the buffer zone of the forest. The gorgeous jewelry is created by these ladies and is marketed by the Final Wilderness Basis.

“The principle uncooked materials is named Moonga Daana, which is historically glass beads which can be handcrafted,” defined Vidya. Friends can attend the workshops which can be performed within the villages and now each Baiga women and men have began creating the beautiful items of jewelry. Along with this, village walks are additionally performed for company the place they will get a glimpse of the tradition and traditions of the Baigas, together with dance programmes, that are a few of their wildlife conservation tasks in India.

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With the present lockdown, many of the tourism programmes are on maintain however folks can nonetheless contribute to the Baigas and Pardhis and different initiatives by taking residence a memento on-line.

It’s also possible to volunteer or e-book any of those walks, workshops and programmes that type part of wildlife conservation tasks in India, as soon as the doorways of tourism are open once more. For another queries, please be at liberty to mail conservation@thelastwilderness.org. All images are courtesy Final Wilderness Basis.

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