For those of us who are city-living wildlife enthusiasts, each wildlife sighting is memorable and precious. Most of us strive for the lifers, that perfect click and the target species from our lists. But for those who live around forested areas, the stories are entirely different. They struggle daily to safeguard their lives, crops, livestock and even property from wild animals.
Local communities living around elephant forests consider the elephants as nothing but a “ Giant Pest” who is responsible for destroying their lives. In retaliation, elephants are killed, electrocuted and captured. In case of tigers, they are killed mercilessly for their body parts. Poisoning of carcass is commonly used method to kill the tiger. Owl is another majestic yet unfortunate species that is suffering because of misguided beliefs. Owls are considered to be inauspicious and a bad omen and are therefore captured , traded and even killed. Apart from wildlife, forests are also viewed as a burden for those who want to earn a quick buck. Privately owned forests serve as a vital corridor for wildlife but for the owners it is a wasted resource if it not cut and sold.
Our understanding of the above issues emanates from our long-term work on elephants in Northern Karnataka, Tigers in Central Maharashtra, Forest Corridors in Western Maharashtra and owls in Central India. We realized that unless the local people get monetary benefit from wildlife and forests, they are not going to be willing partners in conservation. But how do we achieve this? If they can earn money through wildlife it may help in reducing their animosity and gradually the tolerance towards their presence may increase.
We put this premise at work and developed Community Initiative Programs at each of our project sites. We developed our focus species - elephant, tiger, owl, gaur, hornbill, bamboo, and tree as a craft mascot. We designed mascot based products and trained the women in making them. The uniqueness of our product is they are hand-stitched, using recycled and upcycled material. We are consciously trying to minimize the use of synthetic material and promoting the use of natural material.
The readied products are marketed by us through various channels. The proceeds of the sale is directed towards the communities who make the products. The communities earn money which helps in offsetting their losses. Encouraged by this, the local people participate in project activities and help in species conservation. Sounds logical and simple but is a hugely challenging task. This initiative is successful only because of you – who appreciates, purchase and support our products and are most valued customers. Please read more about our community initiative stories below.
Airavat Products : Since 2009, we are working with elephants and local people in North Kanara District of Karnataka. We are training the farmers in using simple, low-cost measures to protect their crops from elephants so that they do not suffer economic loss. Further to offset their losses, we are training the women in the villages to make elephant-themed handicraft items. Branded under Airavat , the mighty elephant of Indra god, the women are making headlines with their skill.
Athena Products: Since 2005, we have been working on the distribution and ecology of Forest Owlet and other owls in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Owls and many other hole-nesters need cavity-trees for nesting, roosting and staying safe. The lovely women of our project areas are creating magic with their hands in making owl themed products. Marketed under the name of Athena, a Greek Goddess of craft and wisdom and also the genus of Spotted and Forest Owlet, the products are helping the women to earn an income and in return protect the species and habitat.
Anjani Products : In Western Ghats of Maharashtra, there are privately owned forests or malki forests which are owned
by villagers. These forests serve as vital corridors for wildlife movement in Koyna and Chandoli Forests. In order to provide incentive to protect the forests in their farms, we are providing incentives to the farmers in livelihood programs. Women are being trained in making local cuisine and youth are being trained as eco-guides. Additionally, women are being trained in handicraft products under Anjani brand. Anjani or Memecylon umbellatum is commonly found tree in the area and it fills the forests with its violet bloom making the landscape appear ethereal.
Our other products on bamboo craft, and on the theme of tiger, gaur and hornbill will soon be available. Watch this space for more information.