As I walked up the paved road for my first glimpse of the architecturally crafted buildings of the Wildlife Institute of India in Chandrabani near Dehradun, many images flashed through my mind. I remembered the halcyon mid-eighties when the Institute functioned from the Forest Research Institute campus. I recollected the raucous times the 1993 Nandadevi expedition guys had at WII from the sheer joy of having visited the remotest wild area in the country. Now I was back, this time to attend a five day Training Course on Wetland Conservation and Management from 27 to 31 Jan 2009. I had learnt of this module from the institute’s website. My superiors were understanding and generous and so, here was I.
By virtue of having attended the first Army course on Wildlife in 1985, I consider the WII to be one of my alma maters. Sure, I knew what wetlands were! Bharatpur, Bhitarkanika and the like. Me, I came from CME Pune to get a few pointers about our four lakes. And to have a lot of fun!! I love being around hard-core wildlifers. They are a breed apart!
The Wildlife Institute immediately strikes you as different from the archetypical govt scientific institutions. You’d probably imagine – large, dusty, brown, shoebox, full of babus. What you get instead is great architecture, small, green, clean, full of intelligent dedicated people. They have a good library, wi fi, a nature walk (its true!) and a green campus adjoining the Sal forests of the Siwaliks. Most importantly, a vast fount of knowledge and experience rests in the minds of scientists who worked there.
I had applied for the training as a ‘lateral entry’ from the Army and the Dr PR Sinha the Director was kind enough to include a ‘fauji’ amonst the foresters and naturalists attending the capsule. But nature-lovers soon connect, and I did NOT feel like a fish out of water – instead I felt that I came home. The beginning started with a lecture on what was a wetland. I was surprised to learn that the best and most accurate definition of a wetland was given by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
We were a motley crew, comprising a handful of forestors, some foreign students, some eager young WWF field workers and a jaded armyman in the form of yours truly. This led to an excellent atmosphere, leg-pulling and mutual sharing of experiences.
The thread of instruction very soon plunged into details but since it illustrated profusely on slides and the teachers bantered with us, we were soon at home with terms such as “ramsar convention’ and ‘palustrine’ and ‘mangal’. Now its not my aim to reproduce what was taught there but I learnt that our lakes were not lakes but a wetland and were value-added by the presence of a heronry.
The most amazing things I learnt were that wetlands are very critical biodiversity hotspots and rate higher than all types of forests. They are more important in that an acre of wetland has 6 to 8 times more productivty than agriculture and more than that of normal forests. We were told the intriguing stories of wetlands such as Bhitarkanika, Mannar, Chilika, Asan, Wular Lake and high altitude wetlands across the Himalayas.
The WII overfed us with an official dinner and two more official high teas to boot. They gave us a lot of goodies, including the WII bag, tie, numerous CDs and best of all – a copy of Kasmiericzak’s (I give up I just cant spell or pronounce him right) book on Indian Birds!
Well, since I’m plugging the WII, I think I’ll mention that they did have one drawback. Yours truly was unable to show off his blog as as all blogs had been firewalled for security reasons! That small hitch apart, I felt really good to be there. We were not talked down to and very hospitably treated which is much more than one can say about other places today.
Overheard in the class! – ”Are storks edible?”