It’s been about a week now since we left the Garo Hills to return to the Netherlands. The first thing I noticed upon being back home is how neat, orderly, flat and concrete everything here is. It really makes one appreciate even more the greenery that has surrounded us so abundantly over the past two years.
Looking back on our time in the Garo Hills, it is not only the impressive presence of flora and fauna that will stay with us in our hearts; perhaps even more so, we will remember the sheer kindness and the inexhaustible hospitality of the Garo people. Their love and respect for their natural surroundings, even when those surroundings hamper their abilities to earn a short term living, is truly inspirational.
I also feel great admiration for the staff of the Wildlife Trust of India, who work tirelessly to conserve the environment, and are attempting to bring man and animal together in closer harmony in doing so.
I felt the sadness of our departure perhaps the strongest upon visiting the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation in Kaziranga for the last time. When we turned to leave the elephant enclosure for the last time, our favourite orphan “Philip” seperated himself from his herd to walk with us along the fence as far as he could, only to stop and greet us for the last time by lifting up his trunk and letting out a gentle trumpet. I like to imagine this was meant as a “so long”, rather than a “goodbye”. It was on our part, anyway.
For the past month Megan and I have been working on a participatory video project with the community of Aretika in the South Garo Hills. Kenbilla, Metaji, Pickar, Methmina, Sanibath and Salba have directed, filmed and produced a wonderful film about water, or “tyi” in their native Atong language. They explain how their water source has been polluted by nearby coal mines, and how there is a scarcity of drinking water resulting from excessive deforestation. Aside from being published on whatifwechange, the film has also been submitted to the Mining, Forest and Fishery departments, to make Aretika’s problems known to those that could potentially help solve them.
Class 6 ( groep 8 ) of the Jan Ligthart-Prangelaar school (Woudenberg, the Netherlands) sent us a video question about climate change. They were wondering if kids worldwide notice the effects of climate change, and whether they participate in environmental initiatives similar to their “warm sweater day”, during which the central heating in the classroom is turned off to save energy.
We went to class 6 of the Aeroville School in Tura to come up with some answers to these questions. In addition, the kids there had some questions of their own for their counterparts in the Netherlands! They are eagerly awaiting your answers, groep 8 of the Jan Ligthart-Prangelaar school!
CLICK ON THE PICTURE TO SEE THE VIDEO
Printho, Suchitra, Prewil, Tracy, Rohit and Benitho from Sakal Aduma underwent 10 days of training in which they learned how to write, film and direct their own film on an important issue facing their community. They decided to make a film on the problem of free cattle grazing within the reserve forest.
What are the consequences of this problem and how do they think it should be solved?
This film is one of the results of a participatory video project undertaken in Sakal Aduma by whatifwechange, WTI, IUCN and Insightshare in Sakal Aduma.
Over the past year and a half we have filmed and interviewed many people here in the Garo Hills. This week we were given the opportunity to give something back to one of the project villages.
Megan and I have been joined by Gareth from Insight Share ( www.insightshare.org ), who is here to teach us how to facilitate participatory video (PV) to the village of Sakal Aduma. PV is an amazing instrument that allows for communities to collectively voice their opinions on issues that relate to them through learning how to make video stories.
After Megan and I, as well as local WTI staff James and Predinath, had undergone an intense training in Tura, we set out to start the PV workshop in Sakal Aduma. So far we have been able to teach a group of thirteen how to operate a camera for the first time, as well as familiarizing them to be on camera themselves. The enthusiasm that this has created is truly rewarding. In the coming week we shall explore issues with them and facilitate them filming their own story and perspectives on conservation. Once the film is edited, a big community screening is set to take place at the end of the week. Look out for their film and a video of the screening here on whatifwechange.org !
In 2002, the Wildlife Trust of India set up the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation in Kaziranga, Assam. Over the past 10 years, the doctors and local keepers at the CWRC have managed to save around 3000 animals. In celebration of this tremendous effort, Megan and I have made a video explaining the impressive work being done in the centre.
We have lots more footage of the centre in stock and will publish an extensive story in 2013!
Last month I officially rejoined What if we change, as a co-reporter with Megan in the Garo Hills. Since then I’ve recorded an answer to Emil’s question on the effect of elephant corridors on other species (eloquently worded by WTI director Vivek Menon), as well as a follow up story on the human-elephant conflict in Aretika.
Right now Megan and I are working hard on filming and editing answers to Mette and Sietske’s questions regarding deforestation. Keep your eyes open for upcoming stories on the WTI rescue centre in Kaziranga, Assam, and follow up stories on familiar faces in the coming months.
For now I can simply say it is great to be back. Cheers!
After a long week of filming and editing, I was planning to head off to Siju, where one of WTI’s project locations is situated. I have been wanting to go down to the South Garo Hills and meet the people there for months now, but due to militant activity in and around the area I was advised against doing so before.
This time I was supposed to film the ceremonial handing over of a motorboat to the people of Aretika, on behalf of WTI as a token of appreciation for their participation in the elephant corridor project. Two days before I was about to leave however, a woman was tragically killed by an elephant, in the middle of the village during the night. She was trampled to death only a few meters from her doorstep, as she was going out to start her day early.
According to the villagers, the elephant got startled and subsequently enraged by the flashlight that the woman inadvertently shone in its direction, and charged. This male elephant has become somewhat of a nightmare to the local people, reportedly having killed and injured around fifteen individuals in the past two years. The bull has disassociated itself from its tribe or any other elephants, and roams around solo, displaying generally aggressive behavior. Considering the danger it constitutes to the general public in the region, the forest department has classified the lone bull as a “rogue” elephant and has ordered it to be shot.
While this seems to be the only practical solution for this particular situation, I can’t help but lament the tragic character of it all. This is unnatural behavior for elephants, and local experts thus suspect that it must have been traumatized in its experience with humans somewhere down the road. The fact that it is roaming in such an increasingly densely populated area makes the case all the more difficult.
I decided to delay my trip to Siju to let the people mourn their tragic loss, and avoid all too confrontational or sensitive situations. I’ll be traveling down there in a week however, and hopefully I’ll be able to report on this sad story somewhat more extensively, since this, human-elephant conflict, is after all, the core of the project here.
In one of my earlier blog posts I had written about my frustration with just missing out on spotting elephants. After a two week break holiday back in the Netherlands, my luck was about to change however. And sooner than I might have expected.
Andriano had been so friendly as to come pick me up at Guwahati airport in the neighboring state of Assam, where I arrived early in the morning. On the 4,5 hour long car ride back down to Tura we were joking about how unlucky we had been in the past two months. When one of the tires blew (a brand new one I had replaced an old tire with just two weeks before I might add) it seemed as if the streak was still going, despite my two week absence.
Half an hour later though, as luck would have it, my colleague and friend Kangku called me up to inform me that the same herd that I had just missed about a month earlier, was back at Nehu Campus eating away at whatever the surrounding jungles ánd the campus facilities had to offer.
Upon arrival a friendly campus security guard lead us to the boys’ hostel, where we were greeted by about a dozen students standing on the rooftop looking out into the surrounding valleys. There they were, some 200 meters below.
A group of four elephants, one large female and three calves, had ventured out into the open, feeding on the bushes. Our guide told us that, earlier that day, other members of the herd had run into and subsequently destroyed some campus water storage facilities to quench their thirst. A concrete example of human-elephant conflict.
Building of the Nehu campus, which is located about a 30 minute drive from the city of Tura, commenced a few years back, and the project has received general local criticism from the moment the first building block was laid down, due to its geographical location. The campus is built right on an age old migratory path taken seasonally by several herds of elephants to get from one source habitat to the other. Now that their corridor has been blocked by housing, roads and even a wall, the elephants tend to get disorientated and linger around on campus grounds, getting dangerously close to humans (or rather the other way around).
As the investment has already been made, all the infrastructure is already there and the students are about to utilize the campus, there is no turning back. However, the college officials are aware of the problem and are determined to find a solution, for both man and elephant. Recently, Nehu campus, the Autonomous District Council and the local Forest Department have taken up the initiative to engage in talks to cooperatively come to solution to this problem. The idea is to dedicate a certain portion of the campus grounds as a reserve for the elephants, and subsequently try and slightly re-route the elephants trail through an opening to be made in the earlier mentioned wall, like a gateway. I expect to bring you more updates on this story as it develops.