Wild Shaale: Teaching lessons on coexistence to school children in rural India

This unique initiative by the Centre for Wildlife Studies takes rural children under its wing to address the human-wildlife conflict.

ByShailaja Tripathi

Published Sep 09, 2023 | 11:08 AMUpdatedSep 09, 2023 | 11:08 AM

Wild Shaale was started in 2018. (Supplied)

The gravity of the human-wildlife conflict is evident through the gradual increase in the number of incidents each year.

In 2019, the then-Minister of State for Environment, Babul Supriyo, responded to a query in the Lok Sabha. He revealed that over 2,300 people in India were killed by elephants, whereas tigers had taken 200 human lives in the last five years.

In such a scenario, the Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS), Bengaluru, founded by Dr K Ullas Karanth in 1984, is trying to address the problem through a grassroots approach.

In 2018, the NGO working in the field of wildlife research and conservation began Wild Shaale, an environmental school education initiative for school-going children aged between 10 and 13 years in rural India.

The programme was co-designed by Dr Krithi K Karanth and Gabby Salazar.

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Living in harmony

Before the pandemic hit the world, the programme had reached 700 government schools in Karnataka and Maharashtra, and over 30,000 children across Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu.

The organisation plans to expand its reach to include many more children who live near wildlife parks and sanctuaries.

Nitya Satheesh, senior programme manager, says, “The villages we operate in are located on the fringes of protected areas. Children here witness a lot of human-wildlife interactions. The idea of our programme is to sensitise the children about wildlife and wild places around them, while also providing some dos and don’ts that they can follow to stay safe.”

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Balance in ecosystem

There are five modules in the course. The second discusses the interactions that take place within an ecosystem and the balance that is necessary for an ecosystem to exist, while the first one introduces the kids to the local biodiversity.

In the third lesson, students learn how to make maps, which also demonstrates the value of maps for wildlife conservation.

The fourth lesson introduces the students to wildlife’s future, and the fifth lesson instructs them on how to coexist with wildlife, while also highlighting conservationists and success stories.

In 2003, the Supreme Court directed that environmental education be made a compulsory subject in schools across the country. However, even after so many years, it doesn’t seem to have made any headway.

The CWS found inspiration in the North American Association for Environmental Education and then designed and adapted content for the Indian context.

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Lessons in empathy and safety

Sahil Pimpale, programme manager and educator with Wild Shaale, says that the programme is designed to raise curiosity among children.

“We give them masks of various animals that they have to paint. Then, we have a game called Plant Illustrations, which is like charades. Various teams have to act out and recognise the plants. In the third session, we play the elephant foraging game, where all the kids become elephants and have to collect food,” shares Sahil.

“One elephant is blind and the other is injured. What we try to convey to the children is that it is difficult for animals to find food in the forest, especially when the forests are shrinking. They also learn about concepts like the food web and food chain,” he elaborates.

He adds that they also share practical tips with students. This ensures safety and avoids confrontation with animals while crossing the forest area.

“We tell them to walk in groups when crossing the area and also advise them on how to handle a situation peacefully, without harming the animal or getting harmed. We tell them not to panic an animal by chasing it away,” he says.

While these children are well aware of their surroundings and biodiversity, programme educators, like Sahil, find that what they are not aware of is the concept of conservation.

“At the end of the third session, we also give them a few examples of crop-raiding situations in case there’s any damage. We instruct them to approach the forest department and seek its compensation plan and how to apply for it to avoid losses,” says Sahil.

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Government schools are all for it

The sessions are scheduled to avoid conflicts with exams, summer/winter breaks, and school holidays. A team of two trained educators conducts the sessions during school hours.

The programme has also evolved. Currently, Wild Shaale is in its fourth phase and its curriculum comprises new modules, activities, and content. Wild Shaale has changed its evaluation tools over time.

Kriti Karanth, chief conservation scientist and executive director of the Centre for Wildlife Studies, shares, “I believe that Wild Shaale will nurture the next generation of wildlife champions and stewards, building a connection to India’s extraordinary biodiversity.”

Sahil says that he does notice a change in the attitude of the children by the end of the programme. “They are full of energy and positivity. Some of them take my number and I know some have started planting trees,” he adds.

For details, visit Instagram @cwsindia or their website cwsindia.org